MODESTO -- Three women on Friday appeared in court for the first time since they were arrested Wednesday on suspicion of burning down a defunct Turlock cheese plant in an attempt to kill a man with whom they fought.
Lanette Sullivan, 46, Wanda White, 45, and Erika Clardy, 24, have been charged with attempted murder and arson in connection with Tuesday night's fire. Police said the women are transients and had sought shelter with the victim at the vacant plant.
The defendants appeared for their arraignment hearing Friday afternoon without attorneys, so Stanislaus County Superior Court Commissioner Nancy Williamsen entered not-guilty pleas on their behalf.
Williamsen scheduled the defendants to return to court Thursday for a pretrial hearing. She increased their bail: $1.8 million each for Sullivan and Clardy; and $1.81 million for White. They were being held at the Stanislaus County Jail.
The court will appoint attorneys to represent the defendants.
Authorities said the three were involved in a dispute with the victim at the former Lactalis USA building on West Main Street. The plant, similar to other empty buildings, has attracted homeless people looking to avoid the elements without going to a shelter.
Turlock police have said the man and one of the women got into an argument that escalated into a fight. The man tried to escape the women by climbing into the rafters. Police said the women started the fire, knowing he was in the rafters.
The man got away, and no injuries were reported. Fire officials said the blaze consumed much of the interior of the 59,000-square-foot building, as well as its supports.
Firefighters kept the fire from spreading to the adjacent Evergreen packaging company. Lactalis operated the plant from the 1980s until its closure in 2007, making brie and other specialty cheeses.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.