Local News

Volunteer firefighter charged in Port-a-Potty fires

Posted June 8, 2011 10:09 a.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2011 11:52 p.m. EDT

— 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. 

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.