Local News

Orange County Couple Suspected of Torching Their Own Home

Posted June 18, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— When a house goes up in flames, you call the fire department. A call like that came three times last month to the same home in Orange County. Firefighters came to fight the fire, including a firefighter from Carrboro.

Robby Crabtree fell through a floor while he was trying to put out the flames. He's still in the hospital. Police now think they know who set those fires.

The suspects are 56-year-old Jim Tingle and his 52-year-old wife Betty. The couple lived in the home. Orange County deputies arrested them Wednesday. The fires happened on the 18th, 20th and 21st of last month. And though that's certainly suspicious, a neighbor says he'd be very surprised if the Tingles are responsible.

Scott McSwain lives just yards from the Tingle house. He called 911 the night of the third fire after his son got him out of bed.

"He woke us up, and we looked out the window," McSwain said. "It was a full blaze up as tall as the house."

While battling the flames, floorboards collapsed under Crabtree. McSwain heard it happen.

"I heard a big crash, and it got kind of quiet for a minute or two, and somebody screamed to get a ladder," McSwain said.

Now at the Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, Crabtree is listed in good condition. And McSwain's neighbors, Jim and Betty Tingle, are charged with three felony counts each of setting fire to their own house.

McSwain was shocked to hear the news and says Jim Tingle told him his insurance company had listed the house as a total loss after the second fire. If that's true, McSwain can't understand why Tingle would torch the house a third time or why he'd put a match to it in the first place.

"I wouldn't really think that Jim would do something like that," McSwain said. "I don't know him very well, but I wouldn't think anybody would do anything like that."

The Tingles are scheduled to appear in Orange County District Court in Hillsborough Thursday morning. WRAL's Robert Carver tried to speak to the Tingles, but no one answered at the telephone number listed on the Orange County arrest reports.

He also tried to see them at their new apartment, but two people there informed him they weren't home. Those two people, who claimed to be neighbors, drove away in a car registered to Betty Tingle.