Local News

Volunteer firefighter charged in Port-a-Potty fires

Posted June 8, 2011

— Investigators believe that a volunteer firefighter and another man set fire to about a dozen Port-a-Potties in Cumberland County simply for the thrill, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said Wednesday.

Detectives saw Edward Colmon Williams and Harold Merideth Starling Jr. approaching a Port-a-Potty on Wade Stedman Road carrying diesel fuel, cardboard and lighters late Tuesday, spokeswoman Debbie Tanna said.

Williams, who volunteers with the Stedman Fire Department, admitted that he and Starling set fire to several Port-a-Potties in the area, Tanna said.

Tanna said at least 17 portable toilets were burned, all of them in the Stedman and Bethany Crossroads areas.

General contractor Melvin Kellum, who is using portable toilets on a construction site, said the fires have cost him about $700 for each Port-a-Potty.

"It's been a real headache because they come out to inspect the (job site) and if there's not (a Port-a-Potty) on the job, they can't do an inspection," Kellum said. 

Stedman man charged with torching portable toilets Stedman man charged with torching portable toilets

The first portable toilet was burned three weeks ago, he said.

"They brought another one the next morning and they burned it the next night," Kellum said.

Most recently, a fire set Tuesday morning spread from a Port-a-Potty to Faith Builders Christian Center on Wade Stedman Road, she said. The fire melted vinyl siding off one end of the newly built church.

Church member Sam Collier estimated the damage at $3,500, but said he was grateful it wasn't worse.

"If it had been five feet closer, it would have burned the church down," Collier said. "As dry as it is right now, we're really concerned right around here about any kind of a fire that gets going."

Neighboring resident Michael Schuler said he and his father saw the Port-a-Potty go up in flames and rushed out to try to extinguish the fire.

"(We) had a cooler in the back of his truck full of water and sodas that we dumped on there," Schuler said.

Williams, 20, of 5114 Pondwood Drive, and Starling, 20, of 3439 Wade Stedman Road, were charged with multiple counts of burning personal property and burning of a church. They were placed in the Cumberland County jail under separate $12,000 bonds and scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon.


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  • southernbythegraceofGOD Jun 9, 2011

    What goes through a person mind when they decide to do such stupid things as this ? I don't think the thought setting fire to a porta potty sounds like that big of a thrill. Heck I don't think the idea of setting fire to anything sounds like a thrill. These guys are 20 yrs old and to top it all off volunteer firemen ! These guys of all people should be old enough to know better and not to play with fire. Some people never grow up and are just destine to be stupid. They should make them go around and have to clean porta potties , BY HAND , for the rest of the summer when its good and hot around 100 degrees that should serve them right for being so dumb !

  • bmg379 Jun 9, 2011

    why does it always seem to be firefighters

  • skyyekatfromafar Jun 9, 2011

    About the only thing one can add to this would be, thank goodness no one was using the port-a-potties at the time of their little "thrill seeking" antics. Talk about "being on a hot seat" . . .

  • NotFromHere Jun 9, 2011

    "What's with this "special rights" legal protection that an non-theist group can never obtain? If they want to charge these guys with damages, ok...have them pay for some melting plastic siding.:

    There are numerous such laws surrounding churches, schools, places of public assembly, day care centers, government building, places of business, etc. Not all of us are protected by each of these special laws. I may not own a business, may not have children in school, may not have children in day care. That doesn't mean those laws should not exist just because they don't apply to me.

  • jenforthewin Jun 9, 2011

    Okay, am I the only one that thinks this is kind of funny?

    Of course it's funny. Stupid people getting caught doing stupid things are pure entertainment. The gOLOers in a huff that we're laughing are kinda funny, too.

    It does stink that this happened, though. I wash my hands of it now.

  • LambeauSouth Jun 9, 2011

    The sentence for this should be that they clean every porta potty in the state, including all of the State Fair ones when they have it.

  • Con Amor brings luv and laughter Jun 9, 2011

    They should not burn ANYTHING that doesnt belong to them!!! I am glad that they were caught, and I hope that they are taught a lesson. If thet want to burn things for jollies, then they should burn their OWN property.

  • fayncmike Jun 8, 2011

    "Out of all the times I've asked co-workers and co-volunteers why they chose to be a firefighter never have I heard one respond with "dah b/c I like to see stuff burn". As a volunteer and a professional or a paid firefighter not ONCE have I enjoyed watching other peoples property and homes burn"

    Perhaps enjoy isn't exactly the right word. Fire is a most primitive phenomenon, It appeals to the primordial instincts. We are all drawn to fire. If not why are there fireplaces in many homes? Why do so many of us have fire pits? Why do so many love to sit around campfires? Being drawn to fire doesn't necessarily make people bad. Firefighters are drawn to fire just as the rest of us are. Does the urge to be drawn to fire influence, at lesat some of them to become firefighters? Of course it's a factor. Remember that man learned to work with fire very early in our evolution.

    Though like most of us, firefighters are drawn to fire that doesn't mean that they all go around setting fires.

  • Rebelyell55 Jun 8, 2011

    I guess this story is so funny that WRAL has keep it on the top list for awhile now. But seriously, when do you think they would gone from port-a-poty to something bigger?

  • makemyday Jun 8, 2011

    cousin "Eddie"