Casey Shaelene Woods: Woman sentenced for starting $1m Mercantile building fire with cigarette while drunk

Jessica MoroneyGeraldton Guardian
Casey Shaelene Woods was sentenced to two years and four months jail after her cigarette butt set fire to the Mercantile Club in 2022.
Camera IconCasey Shaelene Woods was sentenced to two years and four months jail after her cigarette butt set fire to the Mercantile Club in 2022. Credit: Jessica Moroney/Geraldton Guardian/RegionalHUB

A woman who accidentally started a fire that tore through a historic Geraldton building, causing a $1 million damage bill, left a lit cigarette butt on a cardboard box while she went to the toilet.

Casey Shaelene Woods, 29, has spent 15 months in custody since being charged over the blaze that gutted the Mercantile Club building in Marine Terrace’s west end.

She was sentenced in the Geraldton District Court last week after pleading guilty to failing to ensure that a fire source would not cause a fire that could not be controlled, breaching four suspended prison orders and attempting to pervert justice.

The fire charges violated four suspended prison orders she was on for a string of previous offences, including kicking a police officer and bashing another woman in the street with a hockey stick.

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An intoxicated Woods was in an alley way next to the Mercantile Club building about 10.15pm on September 7, 2022 when she lit a cigarette and placed the butt on a cardboard box while she went to the toilet.

The cardboard caught on fire and the blaze spread to the rear of the building’s bottom storey — leased by clothing and homewares store Hippy Haven — and on to the top storey, which was used by a darts club.

Insurance company IAL has so far paid out $875,000 and require to pay out a further $118,000 to complete repairs. The total damage bill was nearly $1 million, the court was told.

The aftermath inside the Hippie Haven store after the Mercantile Building fire.
Camera IconThe aftermath inside the Hippie Haven store after the Mercantile Building fire. Credit: Tracey Pluschke/RegionalHUB

Woods did not attempt to contact emergency services or put out the blaze, but instead climbed a barbed wire fence and ran away.

State prosecutor Brett Tooker said the company had submitted an application for compensation, but defence lawyer George Giudice said there was “no chance” Woods would be able to cover the costs.

“It’s an important consideration that she’s pretty well a homeless person who has had a terrible life and has no means ever of making any payment,” Mr Giudice said.

Judge Michael Bowden adjourned the application sine die, or with no fixed date.

Pleading guilty to the fire activated four suspended imprisonment orders placed on Woods in April 2022. The court was told she kicked a police officer twice during a traffic stop in July 2020, used a hockey stick to assault a woman walking on her street in November 2021, and bit and ripped out her neighbour’s hair while she was watering her garden in December 2021.

In January 2020, Woods was assaulted with a broom by her partner who was charged with aggravated unlawful wounding. While in custody, he contacted Woods more than 100 times requesting she drop the charges.

A woman accused of stealing a box of face masks from Geraldton Hospital with her boyfriend has been scolded by a magistrate, who described it as "one of the lowest acts anyone could commit" in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Casey Shaelene Woods, 24, pictured,  faced Geraldton Magistrate’s Court this week for what was supposed to be a brief appearance, but what she received instead was a severe tongue lashing from the bench.
Police allege Ms Woods and her boyfriend Jason Brett Oxenham, 34, stole a box of 49 masks on March 18. The couple allegedly distracted a nurse who was pre-screening patients at the hospital entrance before Ms Woods snatched the box and fled.
Camera IconCasey Shaelene Woods Credit: Unknown/Facebook

Mr Tooker said Woods later told the court it was self-defence and she had rushed him with a knife, only dropping the weapon after her partner hit her a third time. The man was granted bail but was found guilty of the offence, resulting in Woods being charged with attempting to pervert justice.

Mr Giudice told the court Woods’ violent brothers took over her house and controlled her, demanding she look after them as their “slave”, which resulted in Woods turning to meth and alcohol “and went spiralling off the rails”.

Judge Bowden said it was a serious offence that occurred while Woods was on a suspended sentence, but noted Woods had a dysfunctional upbringing with exposure to domestic violence, drugs and neglect.

Woods was sentenced to two years and four months imprisonment backdated to September 18, 2022 for the fire charge and 12 months imprisonment for the suspended imprisonment breaches starting from Tuesday, February 6.

Her total sentence was three years and four months and she was made eligible for parole.

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