Professor Hurt, Suspect Charged in Fire, Explosion at Davie Poplar

Davie Poplar

A small incendiary device was detonated at the base of the Davie Poplar in McCorkle Place. (UNC photo by Jon Gardiner ’98)

A UNC alumnus appeared in court Thursday on six felony charges related to a fire ignited by an incendiary device at the base of the Davie Poplar on Nov. 3. A UNC faculty member suffered burns in the fire. The charges include assembling a weapon of mass destruction.

Joshua Daniel Edwards ’16 was taken into custody at the scene and spent time at UNC Hospitals undergoing mental evaluation. In his first appearance in court in Orange County court, Edwards also was charged with of malicious use of explosives to inflict injury, malicious use of explosives to damage property, setting fire to grass or grassland, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and filing a false police report.

He was assigned a public defender and jailed under $200,000 bail. His next hearing is set for Nov. 22.

The trunk of the Davie Poplar was left charred on one side from the ground to about 10 feet up. (Photo by Grant Halverson ’93)

Dan Reichart, a professor of physics and astronomy, was passing by and saw the fire. As he tried to extinguish it by kicking dirt onto it, something exploded and blew him backward. Reichart was left with what he reported as first- and second-degree burns to his face and arms. He was treated at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Health Care by its director, Dr. Bruce Cairns.

Reichart wrote on Facebook, “Thanks to surrounding students, first responders, and the great people at UNC’s burn center, I’m on the road to recovery. I hope to be back in the classroom by the beginning of the spring semester.”

The seemingly ageless tree received only superficial damage; the trunk was left charred on one side from the ground to about 10 feet up.

Reichart said he saw what appeared to be a guitar and a backpack at the spot of the fire. The fire and the ensuing explosion were filmed by someone with a cellphone. Students at the scene doused him with water and helped him until first responders arrived.

Police and firefighters responded at about 3:30 p.m.

Soon after the fire in McCorkle Place, according to media reports, UNC police alerted Carrboro police to a possible explosive device in a car parked on West Weaver Street that might have belonged to the suspect. The downtown area of Carrboro was evacuated, while members of a bomb squad investigated. They did not find anything suspicious.

Reichart, who had surgery to treat his burns on the day after the incident, said he believed the explosion threw him about 30 feet from the tree.

Legend has it that William Richardson Davie made the decision to site the University here in the shadow of the famous tulip poplar. “The tree is fine,” said Tom Bythell, University forest manager.


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