Originally created 06/11/04

Two arrested in string of arson cases



ATLANTA - Tips to authorities led to the arrests of two men suspected of starting 33 recent fires that caused $4 million in damages.

Brandon Marty Cook, 25, and Raymond Chad Hansard, 20, both of Cumming, have been charged with a fire and burglary at a business in Suwanee. More charges are pending, said Forsyth County sheriff's Capt. Frank Huggins.

The two men were scheduled to appear before Forsyth County Magistrate Judge Barbara Cole this morning, Capt. Huggins said.

The suspects were being questioned Wednesday as a state task force established to investigate the fires met with state Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine.

A third man arrested in Hall County is no longer considered a suspect, Capt. Huggins said.

The state arson hot line and Forsyth County 911 received tips Tuesday that enabled authorities to give descriptions of the suspects and a vehicle to the 15 police agencies investigating the fires, Mr. Oxendine said.

Mr. Cook and Mr. Hansard were arrested at an upscale subdivision Wednesday morning when Lt. Kevin Wallace, an arson investigator with the Forsyth County Fire Department, responded to a fire at an unoccupied house in the subdivision.

Lt. Wallace spotted a truck matching the description of a suspect's vehicle at the subdivision clubhouse and initially thought it was empty. When he saw there were two people inside, he called for backup.

"We just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Lt. Wallace said.

The suspects drove away, and Lt. Wallace said they obeyed every stop sign but wouldn't pull over until a Forsyth County sheriff's car cut them off.

Mr. Cook and Mr. Hansard were charged with arson and burglary in connection with the fire that prompted the arson tip, Lt. Wallace said. The two are not charged with the Wednesday morning fire, although they are suspects, the lieutenant said.

A third man, Michael James Mewborn, 20, was arrested Wednesday in Hall County based on the same tip, Mr. Oxendine said.