By Jason A. Smith
Police in McDonough said two shoplifting suspects have been charged in connection with a fire at a McDonough Walmart store earlier this week.
Police said one of the suspects told them the fire was started to help the pair evade authorities after shoplifting from the store.
Jabaras Lee Smart, 21, of Locust Grove, and a 16-year-old male, have each been charged with arson in the third degree and misdemeanor shoplifting.
Smart appeared in Henry County Magistrate Court Friday, and his bond was set at $10,000. Judge Robert Godwin bound Smart's charges over to Henry County Superior Court. The teenager was being held Friday at a juvenile facility, according to McDonough Police Detective Chris Morris.
The fire occurred Wednesday at approximately 2 a.m., behind the Walmart at 135 Willow Lane in McDonough.
McDonough Fire Chief Steve Morgan said the fire caused $15,000 to $18,000 in damage to wooden pallets and bales of cardboard behind the store.
"Those cardboard bales weigh about 400 to 500 pounds each, and there were about 70 of them," Morgan said. "Crews spent about three hours extinguishing the flames."
McDonough Police Officer Shelby Holmes reportedly encountered Smart and the juvenile shortly after the blaze but they were not immediately linked to it, Morris said.
"He [Holmes] took note of the clothing they were wearing, and the juvenile was taken into custody on an unrelated charge," Morris said. "[Smart] was released at the scene, because we didn't have enough to charge him. The juvenile was released to the custody of his parents."
Morris said the pair became suspected in the fire after authorities viewed video-surveillance footage of the duo allegedly shoplifting from the Walmart.
"They took less than $300 worth [of] clothing items from the store, just prior to the fire," said Morris. "Officer Holmes and an arson investigator with the McDonough Fire Department, Greg Rowland, developed information through video evidence at the Walmart, that the suspects Officer Holmes had stopped were possibly suspects in the arson.
"They basically placed themselves at the scene," Morris added. "They both admitted to stealing the items, then running out and starting the fire. One of the suspects told us it was to create a diversion for the police while they were fleeing from the shoplifting."
Morgan, the fire chief, said he is thankful for the efforts of McDonough Police on the case, and for assistance from the Henry County Fire Department in putting out the fire.
"I'm just glad that we got such a quick response, and I'm happy they could solve it so quickly," Morgan said.