Originally created 11/25/03

Business' owner suspects arson



CLEARWATER - The owner of Building Supply and Salvage said Monday he suspected the weekend fire that destroyed two of six buildings at his business might have been started by an arsonist and pointed to two other recent burglary and arson cases to bolster his point.

Tommy Mixon cited a March 22 fire at Al's Restaurant in North Augusta and another blaze at a Beech Island gasoline station, but Aiken County sheriff's investigators said it was too soon to draw that conclusion.

"We're not prepared at this time to connect this burglary and fire with any other case," said Lt. Michael Frank, the spokesman for the department.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Lt. Frank said, because the remains of the two buildings were too hot for investigators to sift through until Monday. But there are signs of a break-in that suggest the possibility of arson.

Holes were torn in the chain-link fence near a back gate of the business, and investigators found some construction levels near one of the gates, Lt. Frank said. Mr. Mixon said several hundred dollars from the cash registers was put into a safe located in one of the fire-gutted buildings, but he did not know whether anything was missing because he has not visited his business.

Lt. Larry Hodson, a firefighter with the Richmond County Fire Department who also serves with the Bath Volunteer Fire Department, said the blaze was one of the largest he'd seen this year. Lt. Hodson, who filed a report for the Bath department, said arson was "a strong possibility."

Mr. Mixon has been the owner of the business for 25 years and also owns Mixon Construction Co. He said his insurance company, Johnson Insurance Associates in Columbia, has been contacted, and he is working with the 15 employees who have been displaced by the fire. Some will work at his construction company.

"We're trying to let them stand guard duty and give them hours," he said. "Some of them are working at the construction company so they'll have a pay check for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays."

Mr. Mixon said business tends to drop off a little in the winter months.

"But we were doing really well and I was happy with how things were going. But the heart of the business was there," he said, pointing to the charred debris of the buildings which housed hardware and cabinets.

James Herzog , the manager of the business for five years, said the employees are "taking it a day at a time."

"It's like losing your home. Sometimes I spent more time there than at home," he said.

Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395.