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Police allege Ashland pizza parlor owner tried to blow up building

The owner of a Little Caesars franchise in Ashland is accused of working with another man in an attempt to blow up the building on Walker Avenue.

Mark Alan McAlister, 51, of Medford is charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree arson.

A trial this week was canceled and McAlister now has a pre-trial conference scheduled for January 2015, Jackson County Circuit Court records show.

Police believe McAlister conspired with Brian Vernon Morris, 47, of Jacksonville, to destroy the building housing Little Caesars at 561 Walker Ave., according to affidavits filed with the court.

The pizza parlor is located behind the PC Market of Choice grocery store and is about three blocks uphill from Walker Elementary School. Little Caesars is also near the Southern Oregon University campus.

According to police affidavits, McAlister gave Morris access to the building on Feb. 13. Morris broke an Avista natural gas line inside the building, lit a candle and left the flame burning "in close proximity to the gas leak in an attempt to destroy the building," police allege in the affidavits.

"It certainly isn't every day someone tries to blow up a business in Ashland, Oregon," said Ashland police Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara.

Morris was arrested by Ashland police on July 29. McAlister was arrested a day later.

Morris faces three counts of attempted first-degree arson. He was scheduled to enter a guilty plea on Monday, but his hearing was canceled. He now has a plea hearing in March 2015, court records show.

O'Meara said he could not speculate on why the two wanted to destroy the Little Caesars.

Reached by phone, McAlister said he is trying to sell the Little Caesars franchise. He would provide no further comment.

McAlister has listed the franchise for sale on the Internet for $140,000. He listed his reason for selling as "medical/health issues" and said he needed to retire permanently.

He notes its proximity to the grocery store and SOU in the listing, stating it has "great exposure across from the college campus."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.