110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
posted Mar 14, 2013 - 10:21:27am
When a vacant house on Saxon Drive just south of New Smyrna Beach burst into flames early Wednesday morning, law enforcement and fire investigators quickly rolled into action. And while the investigation moved fast, it didn’t have to go far. In fact, it ended with the convicted arsonist who lives right next door -- the same man who called authorities in the first place to report the fire.
Officials were dispatched to 4654 Saxon Drive after receiving a 911 call at 4:29 a.m. reporting the blaze. “I just got woken up by an alarm,” the caller told the Sheriff’s Office telecommunicator on the other end of the line. “I went outside and the house next door is engulfed in flames.” As the call continues, the man gets increasingly excited. “The flames are going silly now,” he reported. “They’re going crazy.” After taking his name and phone number, the telecommunicator leaves the man with some safety advice. “Keep everyone away from the fire. We’ll be out there shortly, O.K.?” The caller then responds: “Alright. Please come, ‘cuz this thing is really getting goofy.”
While deputies along with fire personnel were dispatched to the scene, several other neighbors also called in to report the fire and tell dispatchers that the house was vacant and for sale. When deputies arrived, the house was fully involved. And that’s when they spotted the initial caller, 44-year-old James Bates (DOB: 7/27/68), sitting in a chair in his yard next door, drinking a beer and intently watching the action. Investigators with both the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and the State Fire Marshal’s Office immediately launched an arson investigation. They also called in bloodhounds from Tomoka Correctional Institution to assist with the case. The dogs’ sensitive noses followed the scent of the suspect, which led directly next door to Bates. Investigators already were quite familiar with Bates, who was convicted of a series of arsons last year and is serving 10 years of felony probation.
When questioned by investigators, Bates initially claimed that he had been awakened by barking dogs and then saw the raging fire. But he later recanted and finally admitted to setting the fire. He had broken in through a window on the back porch, found a large stack of papers inside and lit them on the stove and kitchen counter. It took an hour for the fire to burn through the roof and be visible enough for him to finally call 911 to report it.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office charged Bates with arson and burglary while the Sheriff’s Office added a violation of probation charge. He was then booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach. Bates had also told investigators during the interview that he was responsible for other unsolved residential fires in recent months. Charges in those cases are forthcoming from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Bates described himself Wednesday as a “fire bug” and said that he is afraid of what his capable of doing.
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