Originally created 05/01/06

Woman accused of arson met police before



COLUMBIA - The woman accused of setting a series of brush fires in the Midlands town of Irmo has divergent life stories.

Investigators have said they are trying to connect Kimberly Wooten to 20 suspicious blazes in northwest Richland County in March.

Some say Ms. Wooten is a thoughtful mother of two teen boys, who worked part-time for a local homebuilder and is an active church member.

But in her picture-perfect past is a guilty plea on a shoplifting charge less than 15 years ago. Ms. Wooten also has a nephew who was convicted of killing his infant son. In sworn statements, Ms. Wooten denied giving investigators incriminating information about her nephew.

Ms. Wooten checked into an undisclosed psychiatric hospital April 7, three days after being released from jail in Richland County on arson charges. She was scheduled to be arrested April 10 by Irmo police, but that has been put on hold by her hospital stay.

Jeanette Vanginhoven, a Richland County public defender assigned to Ms. Wooten's case April 4, wouldn't say whether she has spoken to her client since Ms. Wooten has been in the hospital.

Few friends will talk about Ms. Wooten. But Tara Marcella, who goes to church with the family, said the 1982 Irmo High School graduate always seemed nice.

"I hate to think about her being" in jail, Ms. Marcella said. "She was always friendly, outgoing, very open."

The former Kimberly Carothers married Todd Wooten, who also went to Irmo High School, and the two moved around a bit because Mr. Wooten was in the U.S. Navy.

They moved back to South Carolina to be near family.

Ms. Wooten was living in Columbia in December 1992 when she was charged with shoplifting at a J.B. White department store.

According to an arrest warrant, she picked up various items and went into dressing rooms in two different departments. She put the merchandise in a baby stroller and covered it with coats before leaving the store.

After pleading guilty a year later, she was sentenced to 20 days in jail or a $414.25 fine, which she paid in two installments.

Her other court dealings came nearly 10 years later when she offered to testify on behalf of her nephew Kenneth Navy Jr., who was charged with killing his infant son.

In a sworn, written statement, Ms. Wooten denied telling two Richland County deputy coroners and a veteran prosecutor that Mr. Navy smothered his son to stop him from crying. A jury convicted Mr. Navy, then 25, of homicide by child abuse after a four-day trial.

Ms. Wooten was never called to testify in the June 2003 trial.

Ms. Wooten no longer has her job at Gallery Homebuilders in Irmo, company President Kyle Nash said.

He said he was shocked by the charges and was sorry for the people who lost their homes.

Nikiki Armstrong, who lost her home in one of the fires, said she doubts whether any of the victims will ever find out why the fires were started.

"The only thing I want to know is why, and that's something we'll probably never know," she said.

MULTIPLE CHARGES


Kimberly Wooten has been charged with seven counts of second-degree arson and other charges in Richland and Lexington counties. If convicted, she could be sentenced to 25 years on each arson count.


- Associated Press