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Rock Hill man accused in martial arts school arson now charged with church bus theft

‘Who will take care of my kids?’: Suspect in arson of Rock Hill martial arts studio denied bond

Robert Allen Lester, 27, was charged Tuesday with arson, conspiracy and burglary for the June 2009 fire at Pak’s Martial Arts Fitness Center. A judge denied bond during a hearing Tuesday.
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Robert Allen Lester, 27, was charged Tuesday with arson, conspiracy and burglary for the June 2009 fire at Pak’s Martial Arts Fitness Center. A judge denied bond during a hearing Tuesday.

A Rock Hill man charged with arson last month, nine years after a martial arts studio was burned, is now charged with another crime from the same time period in 2009.

Robert Allen Lester, 27, is charged with burglary, grand larceny and criminal conspiracy in the theft of a bus from a Rock Hill church, about a month after the 2009 fire at Pak’s Martial Arts, according to police, jail, and court records.

Anti-Asian graffiti was spray painted on the Pak’s building at the time of the fire, police said.

The bus was stolen from Woodhaven Baptist Church on Aug. 4, 2009, and was found in a West Virginia Walmart parking lot after an apparent multi-state joyride, said Blaine Pleming, 16th Circuit assistant solicitor.

Lester also is accused of stealing a computer from Woodhaven church in 2009, after breaking into the building on Marett Boulevard in Rock Hill, said Rock Hill Police Department Capt. Mark Bollinger.

Lester was arrested Nov. 27 on charges of arson, burglary and conspiracy in the June 24, 2009, fire at Pak’s. The arrest came after nine years of investigation by York County Sheriff’s office deputies. Lester was denied bond after his arrest.

Rock Hill Police Department officers served the warrants in the church crimes against Lester on Dec. 5, Bollinger said.

Lester was in court late Thursday for a bond hearing on the arson case. He was given a $30,000 bond by York County Circuit Court Judge Dan Hall on three charges related to the fire, said Josh Mitchell, Lester’s lawyer.

Mitchell said he argued that Lester is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.

Pleming said he told Judge Hall that police have four people who connect Lester to both criminal cases, and Lester had fled South Carolina in the church bus before dumping it in West Virginia in 2009.

Lester was given a $13,000 bond on charges from the church van case. He now has a total bond of $43,000 on all six charges, Pleming said.

As of Friday afternoon, Lester remained in the York County jail.

A co-defendant in the arson, burglary and conspiracy case at Pak’s, Catherine Paige Neal, 26, was released on $22,500 bond after she was arrested Nov. 27, court records show.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.

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