Fire bomb alleged in body shop fire

Friday, February 25, 2011

State investigators are coming to a fire scene next week to examine the remains of a business burned Sunday, a Marshall County sheriff's detective said Thursday afternoon.

Joe's Body Shop on Fayetteville Highway burned early Sunday morning and "It's definitely a case of arson," according to Joe French of Spring Hill who does custom car body work.

"I don't know" if it's arson, Sheriff's Detective Bob Johnson said, declining to reach a conclusion about a fire scene he's not entered. "We're waiting for the bomb and arson investigator to get here from the state.

"We don't check the fire scenes, so I don't have a clue," he said. "We will not go in the building until we have an arson investigator and that's at their request."

Belfast Fire Department responded to the call about the fire that started shortly before 4:30 a.m., according to Joe French who realized the time by looking at a clock that stopped.

Plastic sheeting on the insulation caught fire and it spread, French said. Tremendous heat warped the metal roof.

"They broke the double paned glass window and then they threw something in. I don't know if it was gas, alcohol or what," French said Wednesday, asking for publicity in the hope that someone might be able to help investigators.

Deputy Matt Owens responded to the scene, French said.

The building was padlocked by the owner and it's to remain that way until the arson investigator arrives.

"I hope that someone saw something similar so we could get this firebug caught," French said in a Wednesday night telephone interview.

"There have been other things that burned in the area," French said. "An empty house burned last year across the street from the shop and it got hot enough to blister the vinyl siding on the house next door.

"The fellow across the street had to be at his horse barn early that (Sunday) morning and he heard a loud car. If anybody saw someone there around that time, they might have information to help the police."

Crime Stoppers receives information from people who want to remain anonymous. The phone number is 359-4867.

"I got called out at 7 a.m.," French said. "The Belfast Fire Department got there a little before 5 a.m.

French is not aware of anyone who hates him so much that they would bomb his building.

The fire comes at a bad time for French.

"I had a major stroke and was recovering from that and ... business was coming back strong," he said.

He's done a great deal of custom car bodywork and fabrication.

"I have closed the shop," he said. "I can't operate out of that building. I'm going to have to relocate, temporarily, possibly permanently."

No customer's car was ruined by the fire.

"The only thing totaled was my personal vehicle, the shop truck," he said of his 1994 Chevrolet.

He estimated his equipment loss at $40,000 and has been told the building damage is 75 percent. He was unsure on the value of the metal building.