Atmore arson suspect jailed
Published 7:03 pm Monday, March 16, 2009
By By MaryClaire Foster
After being kept awake by strange noises, the homeowner at 105 Greer Ave. got up to look outside and upon seeing their backyard on fire, placed a 911 call at 12:36 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
After arriving at the scene, it was brought to the attention of the Atmore police and fire departments that someone had poured gasoline on parts of the house and yard and set it on fire.
Following preliminary investigations, the Atmore Police Department arrested 26-year-old Agustin Hernandez, an illegal Mexican immigrant and next-door neighbor to the house. He is being charged with arson in the first degree, a Class A felony, and being held at the Escambia County Jail.
Deputy State Fire Marshall Michael Talley said a bond hearing has not been set and Hernandez is being held by an immigrant detainer placed by the Immigration Custom Enforcement. Talley added he expected bail to be set high because it is a felony charge.
Talley said authorities at the scene said Hernandez had been standing outside watching the house when the fire and police departments arrived.
Authorities had also received a call from attendants at the gas station less than a half-mile down the street from the house when they heard a strange noise come from up the street after selling gasoline to Hernandez.
After having a Spanish-speaking officer question Hernandez they asked him to accompany them to the gas station where an employee positively identified him and he was subsequently arrested.
According to both the homeowner and Talley, there is no apparent reason why the home would be the target of arson.
The owner of the house said they did not know the suspect personally and have only seen him in passing.
According to Talley, Hernandez was living at the house next door with his employers from No. 1 China Buffet in Atmore. He worked as a cook in the restaurant.
The homeowner said they had been hearing a “racket” coming from the neighbors’ house throughout the evening and continued to when they went to bed at 9:30 p.m. After cutting on a floodlight at around 10:30 p.m., the homeowner said the racket died down, but they continued to hear noise loud enough to keep them awake until 12:30 a.m.
The homeowner said besides the damage in the backyard, the front porch, along with other parts of the house, had been doused in gasoline, but only the porch had fire damage. The culprit also cut several window and door screens, in what the homeowners thought was an attempt to break in.
The carpeted back porch was also doused in gasoline, forcing the homeowners to have to rip it up.
Talley said that although the reason is unknown, the culprit had to have some strong feelings to go to this extreme.
The homeowner said they were extremely grateful to the fire department, police department, fire marshal and other involved officials for their swift and thorough action in extinguishing the fire and working to apprehend the suspect.
Atmore Police and Fire Departments will be assisting the State Fire Marshal’s Office in the investigation.