VERNAL — An 18-year-old man has pleaded guilty to burglarizing two businesses in April, then setting fire to one of them.

Chad A. Eldredge entered guilty pleas to charges of second-degree felony arson, third-degree felony burglary and class A misdemeanor attempted burglary. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss misdemeanor charges of theft, unlawful possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor and possession of tobacco by a minor in exchange for Eldredge's plea.

On April 24, a Vernal police officer spotted heavy smoke coming from the area of 500 W. Main about 1:20 a.m. and went to investigate. The officer found smoke pouring out of the shattered windows of the New Look Salon and saw Eldredge walking along the sidewalk nearby.

The officer said Eldredge smelled of alcohol and had blood on his clothing. The teen said he'd gone to investigate the smoke coming from the salon and cut his finger on the broken glass, according to the officer, who noted that Eldredge was also bleeding heavily from a cut on his right ankle.

The officer said he found $163.64 in loose bills and change covered in hair clippings when he ordered Eldredge to empty his pockets. He also found a green lighter, a small whiskey flask, a can of chewing tobacco and two cell phones.

Another officer checked a pawnshop that neighbors the salon and found that it had been burglarized as well. Authorities said there was blood on the broken glass in the pawnshop's store front.

Investigators said Eldredge told them he broke into the salon because he needed money and started the fire in an attempt to destroy evidence of the burglary.

Eldredge, who has remained in jail since his arrest despite a substantial reduction in his bail, will be sentenced July 22.

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