Local News

Suspect vehicle sought in Johnston arson

Posted February 6, 2011 1:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2011 5:16 p.m. EST

— Johnston County authorities were searching Sunday for a Chevrolet pickup truck that might have been used in a break-in and arson at the home of a gay couple who neighbors say was the victim of harassment.

Authorities said that investigators are close to determining that the fire does not fit the state's criteria for a hate crime.

A Friday fire gutted a home in the Winston Pointe subdivision, off Guy Road outside of Clayton. Investigators believe that the home was broken into within days of the fire, Tammy Amaon, with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office, said Sunday.

She said that authorities are searching for a white Chevrolet S-10 crew-cab truck towing a small trailer, with a John Deere LA115 riding lawn mower and Troy-Bilt push mower. Investigators believe the mowers were stolen from the home.

Anyone with information about the truck or mowers is asked to call the sheriff's office at 919-989-5010.

A neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, said there have been at least three separate incidents of anti-gay harassment at the home over the past year.

The neighbor said the couple had their tires slashed, a gay slur was written on their home in marker and they also received a note with a gay slur in their mailbox telling them to move.

Sheriff Steve Bizzell said his office is aware of two incidents at the house, but he declined to say if they are related to the arson investigation. He said the fire does not appear to be related to a string of suspicious fires in the area.

The couple, who did not want to be identified out of fear for their safety, was out of town at the time of the fire and is staying at a motel.