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Ahoskie fire nets arrest

AHOSKIE – An 11-year-old juvenile has been charged in an April 15 fire that destroyed a residential storage shed and damaged four Main Street businesses.

The juvenile male stands charged with three counts each of damage to real property (buildings) and personal property (contents), according to Ahoskie Police Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts who handled the investigation.

The April 15 fire started in a storage shed located behind a residence at 112 South Lloyd Street, rental property owned by Jim Ellis. The fire spread to the rear of four Main Street businesses n A.D. Jernigan Insurance, office space rented by Catherine Allen, the J.C. Penney Catalog Store and a storage area used by Ahoskie Floral Gardens. All of that Main Street property is owned by Ed Robert Evans.

Ahoskie Fire Chief Ken Dilday said the brunt of the damage was at J.C. Penney.

Roberts’ investigation led him to the residence at 112 South Lloyd Street. He learned the mother of the juvenile lived at that residence. Roberts also obtained knowledge that the juvenile lived with his father in Virginia and visited his mother on weekends and holidays. The fire occurred on a Saturday, which was also the Easter holiday weekend.

“Through my investigation I learned of another sibling, the younger brother of the juvenile that was eventually arrested, living there with the mother,” Roberts said. “I interviewed the brother and the information I obtained from that interview led me to the 11-year-old.”

Waiting for the juvenile to return to Ahoskie for a weekend visit, Roberts arranged for an interview with the 11-year-old at which time, according to Roberts, the child admitted to lighting sticks on fire inside the storage barn and then stomping them out with his foot.

“Apparently he didn’t stomp one of those sticks out good enough, which set the barn on fire and it quickly spread to the Main Street businesses,” Roberts noted.

Roberts continued, “I don’t believe he did this intentionally. If I felt that way then I would have charged him with arson. He was a kid that was just curious about fire. Kids are curious by nature, but I would encourage parents or guardians to keep lighters and matches away from children, especially those this young.”

Roberts has forwarded his arrest petition to the Juvenile Services division of the Hertford County Department of Social Services.

“It’s up to Juvenile Services to take this incident to court,” Roberts said.

When asked if the juvenile’s parents or guardians are responsible for any restitution to the businesses affected by the fire, Roberts said that decision is left to the discretion of a judge.

According to Chief Dilday’s estimates, damages to all five buildings, including the storage shed, stood at $77,500. As he mentioned earlier, the majority of that damage was at J.C. Penney where he estimated $65,000 in losses of real and personal property occurred.

Roberts said he wanted to thank the efforts of the Ahoskie Fire Department for quickly bringing the fire under control and preventing further damage.

“Not only were they quick to answer the call, they also cordoned off the areas in and around the fire,” Roberts concluded. “That kept the area undisturbed and thus aided in our investigation.”

“This fire had all the potential to be much worse than it turned out to be,” Chief Dilday stated. “It’s a prime example of why children should be prevented from playing with matches or cigarette lighters.”

Dilday pleaded with parents or guardians to keep matches and lighters away from children. He also offered his department’s assistance in talking to children about fire safety and prevention.

“We’re always ready to talk with parents and their children about the dangers associated with fire,” Dilday said. “We’ll come to them or they can come to us. Either way it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

The Fire Chief also implored children to seek out an adult or call the fire department if they witness another child playing with matches or lighters.

In closing, Dilday thanked Roberts for his efforts in investigating the cause of the fire. He also thanked the Murfreesboro, Union and Winton fire departments for their help in bringing the blaze under control.