A local police officer is being hailed as a hero after getting a family out of their residence and to safety after a recent arson attempt.
The suspected serial arsonist is behind bars and being held on a $1 million bond after that same officer caught him while allegedly attempting to set another building on fire overnight Thursday. That’s when, according to a report from the New Tazewell Police Department (NTPD), the suspect, Joshua Sutton, 26, attempted to burn the indoor flea market and the old Payne Ford Motor building, both on Main Street in New Tazewell.
Officer Brent Clark of the NTPD made the arrest.
Clark, who works the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, was on duty the morning of June 20 and was on his regular patrol near Fairview Cemetery when he said he saw some tires on fire next to the garage of a nearby residence. He went to the door to try and wake the people inside, he said, and in that short amount of time the fire spread up the side of the garage and into the rafters.
His next attempt at waking someone was successful and the residents, Steve Miracle, Tricia Fugate and their two-year-old son, all got out of the house safely with no injuries.
The Tazewell-New Tazewell Fire Department reported to the scene and extinguished the fire.
“The family got out before the smoke alarms even went off,” Clark said.
According to Clark, the homeowners said the tires were not theirs and had been placed there by the arsonist. The Arson Task Force was called to the scene and determined that the fire was indeed arson, Clark said, and an investigation was initiated.
“I’m grateful to the New Tazewell Police Department and Brent Clark especially,” said Miracle. “We were sound asleep and heard him beating on the door. If he hadn’t been patrolling the area at that time I don’t know what might have happened to us.”
“Brent’s a hero to us; some of the structure burned but we got out,” he added. “We appreciate the fire department getting there quickly and everybody’s effort.”
The night of June 25, Clark received a call about a suspicious vehicle driving up and down Front Street in New Tazewell, which runs parallel to Main Street near the railroad tracks. Clark said he happened to be parked at New Tazewell City Hall at the time and was able to go almost immediately to the area. He found a tire on fire and leaned up against the wooden door of the old Payne Ford Motor building.
The suspect was in a truck nearby, Clark said, and after initial questioning he took Sutton into custody.
NTPD Chief Ben Evans stated Friday morning that there have been numerous reports of arson attempts in the Dogwood Heights area. Fires have been set at residences, outbuildings, trees and various things in that area, according to Clark. Those cases are being investigated by the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department.
After some more questioning, Sutton “admitted to all of them,” Clark said, “the house, the stuff in Dogwood Heights, everything.”
While questioning Sutton, another call came in that the indoor flea market was on fire as well, Clark said. Officer Jake Williams, who had been at the scene with Clark, answered that call and Sutton eventually confessed to setting that fire also, Clark said.
Clark rescued a family and made the arrest within days — but is generous with giving others credit.
“It doesn’t happen with any one person — it’s a team effort,” he said, adding that he owes thanks “to the fire department for their hard work and quick response to the fires; to Adam Payne, Bruce Myers and the Arson Task Force and to my partner and friend Jake Williams who thanks to his quick actions saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to several buildings in New Tazewell.”
“I think God put me at the right place at the right time,” Clark said. “I’m just glad everyone is OK.”
Sutton was charged by the NTPD with one count of aggravated arson and two counts of arson. He was taken to the Claiborne County Jail. He was arraigned in Claiborne County Sessions Court June 26 and his bond was set at $1 million. He is being held pending additional charges and is scheduled to appear in court again June 29.
The Claiborne Progress will continue to follow this story and will have more information about this ongoing investigation as it becomes available.
Reach Marisa Anders at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @newsgirl88.