A 51-year-old man was seen walking on a busy freeway in an agitated state 12 hours before he burnt down his retirement village unit on Australia Day.
The fire at 11.41pm on January 25 destroyed the Bacchus Marsh Retirement Living unit, causing $200,000 damage.
The retirement village’s 37 residents were put in extreme danger, while two residents were taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Rodney Barling pleaded guilty to one count of arson at the Ballarat Magistrates Court on Friday before he made an application for bail.
Police informant Detective Senior Constable Andrew Cummins told the bail application hearing numerous motorists phoned triple-0 at 11.36am on Australia Day to report a man walking along the Western Highway at Bacchus Marsh.
He said police approached the accused, who was in an agitated state and walking quickly.
Barling told police he was walking to Ballarat because he had “had enough of this town”.
Detective Senior Constable Cummins said Barling did not tell police he lived at the Gisborne Road retirement village, so officers drove him to the nearest train station.
Twelve hours later at 11.41pm, the Bacchus Marsh Retirement Living manager saw smoke billowing out of Barling’s unit.
The fire completely destroyed the unit and caused smoke damage to other units.
Detective Senior Constable Cummins said the deliberately-lit fire put the retirement village’s residents in extreme danger.
He said Barling, who was carrying two cigarette lighters when he was arrested, told police he went to bed on the night of the fire and woke up drugged in a park.
The court was told an arson chemist who attended the scene determined the fire was lit with a match or cigarette lighter.
Detective Senior Constable Cummins said the Bacchus Marsh Retirement Living manager had contacted Ballarat psychiatric services with concerns about Barling days before he lit the fire.
Police opposed Barling’s application for bail, saying he was an unacceptable risk of reoffending and endangering the public’s safety.
The court was told Barling had new accommodation at a Ballarat facility that met his needs, but he was free to come and go as he pleased.
Defence barrister Vincent Peters said his client’s medication lapsed at the time of the fire but he had now settled well.
He said Barling experienced anxiety and schizophrenia.
Magistrate Gregory Robinson refused bail, suggesting Barling would be regulated more in prison than the Ballarat aged care facility.
The plea hearing will be held in the County Court at a later date.