Originally created 04/17/99

Authorities charge three in court fire



Nearly a year after fire gutted the Allendale County Courthouse, state arson investigators have charged three people with setting the blaze.

The State Law Enforcement Division arrested two Allendale, S.C., men and a woman from Barnwell on Friday.

They are Cornelius L. Hightower, 25; Andre Lofton, 23; and Alice M. Chisolm, 32.

Each is charged with second-degree arson, SLED spokesman Hugh Munn said. The three are in jail in Allendale, each under $100,000 bond.

As many as 20 members of the SLED arson team have been involved in the investigation since last May, when an early-morning fire destroyed the second story of the 1919 courthouse, including a courtroom, the clerk of court's office and several storage rooms.

Also burned up were plans for renovating and expanding the building.

Property and tax records were salvaged, but damaged by water.

Arson investigators found a flammable substance with a petroleum base in the stairwell where the courthouse fire apparently started.

SLED has not disclosed what led investigators to the three accused of setting the fire.

Mr. Munn said local officials assisted in the investigation and arrests.

Allendale Police Chief James Rouse said late Friday his office did not yet have a report from SLED, which will take the same lead in compiling the paperwork as it did in the investigation.

Margaret N. O'Shea can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.