Ford arson case on trial

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Lewisburg man -- son of a firefighter -- was on trial Monday and Tuesday, accused of setting an unoccupied house on fire.

Mitchell J. Ford, 32, of Nashville Highway, is alleged to have started a fire at 603 Old Lane Road just before 1 p.m. Friday, April 23, 2010.

Ironically, Ford's father, Lewisburg Firefighter Hundley Ford Sr., was among the first to arrive at the scene of the fire.

Eyewitness James Gailor, who lived across the street, testified on Monday afternoon that he returned home and saw a man come out of the front door of the house, get into a gold-colored Saturn that was parked in the driveway, and drive slowly away, giving Gailor plenty of time to observe the specialty license plate. Then Gailor's children, who were playing in the yard, started screaming, he turned and saw smoke coming out of the house, and the gold car accelerated and disappeared.

An hour or so later, after the fire was out, Gailor testified, he was driving toward Shelbyville on state Route 64 when he saw the gold Saturn, with its distinctive license plate, ahead of him. Gailor started honking his horn and flashing his lights and the car turned left into Sims Road, made a U-turn, and got back on Route 64, heading for Lewisburg. By this time, Gailor had called 9-1-1 and was telling the dispatcher he was behind a car that had been seen leaving the scene of a house fire.

A driver's license checkpoint had just been set up on Route 64, Tennessee Highway Patrolman James Crump testified Tuesday morning. A gold Saturn, followed by a gray minivan, stopped at the checkpoint.

Quoting the minivan driver, Crump testified, "Hey, I saw him set a house on fire."

In response, the driver of the Saturn told Crump, "Hey, he's accusing me of setting a house on fire."

In the courtroom Tuesday, Crump identified Ford as the driver of the Saturn.

Crump radioed Lewisburg Police detectives to say he had the suspect and the witness at the checkpoint. Shortly thereafter, Ford was arrested.

Also Tuesday morning, Special Agent Russell Robinson, an arson investigator with the State of Tennessee Fire Marshall's Office, described his investigation of the fire scene, which began as soon as the fire was under control.

"My opinion is this was an intentionally set fire," Robinson stated. "No doubt it was sent in the loft" of the garage. He added there were no accelerants used, "just normal combustible items" and a source of open flame, such as a match or lighter. Robinson ruled out an electrical fire. The power had been turned off and the meter removed from the house. Spontaneous combustion and lightning strike were also ruled out as it was a sunny spring day.

Testimony Monday afternoon from Lewisburg fireman Jason Davis established that Davis, Capt. William Lynch, and the defendant's father, were in the first fire truck to arrive at the scene. Davis further testified that Ford Sr. drove a gold Saturn with a distinctive license plate, and that he had seen the defendant visiting his father at the firehouse.