Men rewarded $5,500 for arson tips

Published 2:05 pm Friday, August 24, 2012

TWO LOCAL CITIZENS each received a share of $5,500 in reward money from Georgia Arson Control, which operates a tip hotline that people may call to report information about arson cases. Shown are, left to right Sheriff’s Investigator Redell Walton, Randy Bishop of Georgia Arson Control Inc., citizen Nathaneel Union, who was one of the two that received some of the reward money, and Sheriff Wiley Griffin.

Two Decatur County men received monetary rewards Thursday for tips that led to a conviction in a 2010 arson case.

A total of $5,500 in reward money was split by Nathaneel Union and Adam Rentz, both of Bainbridge. Both men called 911 after seeing a woman acting suspiciously in an area where brush fires were intentionally set.

The Sheriff’s Office investigated a string of arsons in and around the Black Jack community between July and November of 2010. In all, there were 23 incidents of arson, about 13 of which damaged structures and several others which were brush fires, said Sheriff’s Investigator Redell Walton. Four buildings were destroyed or damaged by fire on the afternoon of July 20, 2010.

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Forty-six year-old Lisa Ponder was later arrested and charged with setting two fires in November 2010; investigators weren’t able to definitively prove who was responsible for the other fires. She was sentenced to serve 10 years on probation and pay a fine, according to Sheriff Wiley Griffin.

“I definitely want to share my gratitude with these two citizens for reporting when they saw a crime happen and notified law enforcement out of concern for their community,” Griffin said. “They didn’t call for the reward money, they did it for the safety of their neighbors, and we appreciate them for that.”

The reward money was paid out by Georgia Arson Control, Inc., a company which manages a reward money pool that all property and casualty insurance companies in Georgia pay into, said Randy Bishop, the company’s representative in southwest Georgia. Georgia Arson Control also operates a tip hotline, 1-800-282-5804, which offers up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for arson.

The hotline is sponsored by the Georgia Fire Marshal’s Office, which investigates arsons. Tim Roberts, an arson investigator who works out of Thomas County, brought along Ava, a 22-month-old Labrador retriever who is trained to sniff out accelerants used to intentionally set a fire.

People can become eligible for reward money if they provide information about an act of arson to law enforcement, insurance investigators or the District Attorney’s Office, and that information leads to an arrest and conviction, Bishop said.

“We’re fortunate that in this case, the fires were set in abandoned building and no one was hurt,” Walton said. “The volunteer and paid firefighters who responded to those incidents had to deal with several major fires and put themselves in harm’s way. So we’re glad that, as a result of these citizens’ information, we were able to put a stop to the arsons.”