Originally created 05/25/04

Arrests stir Eureka arson investigation



AIKEN - Aiken County arson investigators will comb through several years' worth of incident reports in the Eureka fire district after two members of the volunteer department were arrested during the weekend and charged with intentionally setting a blaze.

Investigators are taking a fresh look at "a number of fires in that district," raising "a distinct possibility there will be more charges," Aiken County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Michael Frank said Monday.

Gary L. Graham, 17, and Samuel R. Langley, 20, both of Aiken, are members of the Eureka Volunteer Fire Department.

Mr. Graham, whose father also is a volunteer with the department, is a "cadet" - allowed to respond to brush fires and house fires but not permitted to enter burning buildings, according to Eureka Volunteer Firefighter and former Fire Chief Bryon Kersh.

Mr. Langley recently rejoined the department, he said. Both have been suspended pending the outcome of their cases.

Mr. Graham, Mr. Langley and a third suspect not affiliated with the fire department, 17-year-old Justin Minor, of Vaucluse, were arrested early Sunday and charged with willfully burning lands of another, a felony.

Lt. Frank said the men set fire to a patch of woods near the intersection of Highway 19 and Old Friar Road shortly before midnight Saturday.

Investigators think the fire was set so that Eureka fire officials could respond, Lt. Frank said.

"The Eureka Fire Department did respond and put it out," he said.

Lt. Frank said a witness spotted the men leaving the area where the fire broke out and recognized them as firefighters.

Without commenting on the investigation, Mr. Kersh said it was "an upsetting time" for the department.

Mr. Graham had been a fixture at the fire station since he tagged along with his father as a boy.

"I think it's a crying shame," he said. "You always hate to think that it's right here in your home," he said.

Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or stephen.gurr@augustachronicle.com.



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