published Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Former firefighter accused of arson may seek change of venue

  • photo
    Marvin Chase, a former volunteer LaFayette firefighter charged with arson
    Contributed Photo

The attorney for a former LaFayette, Ga., volunteer firefighter accused of starting several fires in abandoned buildings over a five-year span will ask for a change of venue if his client's case goes to trial.

Marvin Chase, 34, pleaded not guilty to eight counts of arson during his arraignment Wednesday in Walker County. His next court appearance is set for May. If he pleads not guilty at that time, a trial date will be set.

But Chase's attorney, David West, said he will try to have the trial moved out of Northwest Georgia because of the way officials "sensationalized" the case.

"They're trying to use my client as a scapegoat in a lot of unsolved arsons," West said Wednesday afternoon.

When Chase was arrested in December 2010 on one count of arson, police said in a news conference that they would be able to prove the volunteer firefighter was responsible for more than 20 fires within the city.

Last month, Chase was indicted on eight counts of arson.

LaFayette police Sgt. Stacey Meeks said at the time of the indictment that authorities couldn't trace many of the property owners of the burned buildings through the records, which limited the number of arson cases that could be prosecuted.

Chase was a volunteer firefighter for the LaFayette Fire department from 2005 to 2010.

Setting fire to abandoned houses in LaFayette has been a trend for decades, authorities said at the time of Chase's arrest, but starting in 2005 there was an uptick, resulting in nearly 30 cases of arson reported over the next five years.

Chase was often the first firefighter on the scene, Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman told the media at the time of Chase's arrest.

Meeks also said in 2010 that Chase had confessed to starting multiple fires in the area using gasoline.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

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 ...

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