After police in LaFayette, Ga., charged a volunteer firefighter in one of a string of arsons in the town over the last five years, the community enjoyed a lull in random fires.
But when an abandoned shed was burned May 4, LaFayette police Detective Sgt. Darin Kelley said his heart dropped.
Was it a copycat arsonist?
“It did run through our mind,” Kelley said.
But once he began to investigate the charred building off East Indiana Street, Kelley decided it was an isolated fire that probably was lit out of spite.
“It’s not related whatsoever with the other arsons,” Kelley said.
Now police believe the fire was set by Joshua Wallin, who is fighting with his estranged wife for joint custody of their 3-year-old daughter. A warrant for Wallin’s arrest was issued this week on charges of arson and terroristic threats.
Police said the sheriff’s office is on the lookout for Wallin, who has been dodging arrest.
Wallin couldn’t be reached by phone Friday.
His estranged wife and family live in an apartment next door to the burned shed.
Kelley said police believe the fire was set around midnight. Firefighters doused the flames before they reached the apartment, but the garage was only inches from the fire, he said.
Wallin’s father-in-law, Andy Fricks, also lived at the apartment next door. He said when he saw the flames, he was afraid the fire would burn everything in the garage.
Kelley said that days after the fire, Wallin’s estranged wife told police she got a threatening call from Wallin, who said, “Maybe you and your brother will be in there next time when it gets burnt down.”
Wallin’s wife has a restraining order against him, police said.
Kelley said police breathed a sigh of relief that another arsonist isn’t on the loose in the town.
In December, local police and the state fire marshal said they believed Marvin Chase was a serial arsonist responsible for setting a slew of fires to vacant houses since 2005.
Chase has only been charged with one count of arson, but detective Sgt. Stacey Meeks said authorities will take evidence in several more cases to the grand jury’s June meeting.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...