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Man charged with arson after Lake Gaston homes burn

Benjamin Robert Davis, 30, is accused of setting fires that destroyed two lakefront homes during a series of break-ins overnight on Pine Woods Court, a cul-de-sac off Lake Gaston, authorities said.

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LITTLETON, N.C. — Halifax County sheriff's deputies arrested a man Friday in connection with what they described as an overnight spree of break-ins and arsons that destroyed two houses on a cul-de-sac in the Lake Shore subdivision.

"This ranks right up there with one of the craziest things I've ever seen since I've done my tenure with the Halifax County Sheriff's Office," Lt. Bobby Martin said.

Benjamin Robert Davis, 30, of Rocky Mount, was charged with three counts of second-degree arson; two each counts of felony larceny, larceny after breaking and entering and damage to property; and one count each of misdemeanor attempted breaking and entering, felony larceny from a fire truck and communicating threats to law enforcement and firefighters.

Littleton firefighters found one home on Pine Wood Court engulfed in flames around 12:15 a.m. Friday, Martin said. While crews were battling the blaze, the fire chief saw a man take a hose from the fire truck and carry it into a house a few lots over from the fire.

When confronted by deputies, the man – who authorities identified as Davis – threatened to shoot the deputies and firefighters and was then arrested, Martin said.

A deputy next heard crackling and popping sounds coming from another house and saw smoke coming from it when he pointed his flashlight at the house, Martin said.

Both homes were destroyed, but no one was there at the time, and no injuries were reported.

"To get a call in the early morning hours that something that has been a big part of you is now gone – it's devastating, and I could see it as I talked with the victims today," Martin said.

Bill Vaughan, of Wilson, came later Friday to look at the ruins of the beloved vacation home he had owned for 21 years.

"Nothing  is like actually seeing it. And I was just totally devastated," Vaughan said. "I had run it through my memory so many times as to our time up here. ... So many memories that are gone."

As a memento, Vaughan has a sketch of the home that he once had an artist make.

Investigators believe that Davis broke into one home, stole a fire poker and then set the house on fire. He used the fire poker to smash windows at two other houses, set fire to them and tried to break into a fourth house, authorities said. The four houses surrounded a vacation home owned by Davis' family.

Arson experts with the State Bureau of Investigation helped the Littleton Volunteer Fire Department and Halifax County Sheriff's Office examine the evidence at the scene Friday. Martin said that resident Dorothy Rightmeyer "truly went above and beyond" by giving investigators food and drink throughout the day.

Investigators haven't released a motive in the case, and Vaughan said he couldn't think of any disputes Davis had with neighbors. Deputies said that Davis appeared intoxicated at the time of his arrest, but no alcohol tests were done.

His father, Robbie Davis, chairman of the Nash County Board of Commissioners, apologized to the neighbors who lost their homes.

Robbie Davis said that his son has a history of anxiety and panic attacks and takes medication. Relatives didn't know Davis was at their vacation house, his father said.

Davis was being held in the Halifax County Jail under a $1 million bond Friday evening. His first court date was set for June 10.

Martin said deputies planned to serve him with outstanding warrants from Nash County. There was no word Friday afternoon on what charges he faced in those warrants.

Davis also faces charges in Rocky Mount where, police say, he became irate with Wal-Mart workers and set a fire in the women's clothing section, then broke into three vehicles, stole one and tried to flee from police early Oct. 9, 2008. Police also charged him with DWI that day.

According to state Department of Correction records, Davis spent 1 year and 3 months in prison after being convicted of common-law robbery and drug possession in March 2006. He was also convicted of DWI and driving on a revoked license in 2002.