St. Cloud bar owner charged with intentionally setting fire; bail set

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The owner of a St. Cloud bar charged with intentionally burning it down appeared in court Tuesday, where a judge set his bail.

The Stearns County Sheriff's Office said 40-year-old Andrew Charles Welsh's bail was set at $1.2 million without conditions or $200,000 with conditions.

Welsh is charged with two counts of first-degree arson for intentionally setting the fire that burned down Press Bar and Parlor last month.

Firefighters responded to a fire at Press Bar at about 2:45 a.m. Feb. 17. Crews had to demolish the bar to completely extinguish the fire.

ATF: Press Bar fire believed to be intentional; business owner in custody

A criminal complaint states the bar was open the previous night, and city surveillance video showed a vehicle registered to Welsh park in front of the bar at 9:02 p.m. the night before the fire. After sitting in the vehicle for 28 minutes, Welsh then went into the bar. At 2:08 a.m., a bar employee is seen leaving the bar, and nobody else entered or exited the building between the time Welsh left the bar at about 2:11 a.m. and the time firefighters responded early the next morning.

According to the complaint, the bar employee told investigators Welsh came to his office and stayed much later than normal the night before the fire, and when the employee texted Welsh several times early on the morning of Feb. 17 after learning of the fire, Welsh never responded, which was also not normal.

The complaint adds that investigators determined the fire started in the basement office on top of a desk, and fire patterns indicated an accelerant was used. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives canine trained to detect accelerants also indicated the presence of an accelerant.

It adds that test results indicated the presence of an "ignitable liquid" on a sample taken from the desk. The ATF team then ruled out all potential accidental causes of the fire, and determined that an accelerant on Welsh's desk was intentionally lit on fire.

'We were like a family there': Community recalls well-known St. Cloud bar destroyed in fire

The complaint states Welsh and his ex-wife bought the bar in 2016 for about $850,000, and at the time of the fire, he still owed about $550,000. Employees allegedly told investigators the bar's business had been declining, and despite the fact Welsh and his ex-wife were required to list the bar for sale by Jan. 20, 2020, Welsh hadn't listed it.

It also notes the bar was insured for approximately $1.3 million for building repairs and $300,000 for equipment repairs. That didn't include the potential value of the land itself.

Ryan Garry, Welsh's defense attorney says the bar owner is innocent.  He also says Welsh had invested a significant amount of time and money in making improvements at the bar in recent years.

"We look forward to aggressively defending him.  He is a small business owner supporting his family, he has no criminal history, he's done absolutely nothing wrong," Garry said.

On Feb. 29, police executed search warrants at Welsh's and his ex-wife's properties. He was located in his truck at his home in Sauk Rapids and was taken into custody. In his truck, officers found lighter fluid, the complaint states.