First Posted: 8/16/2009
A third teen is now accused of starting a fire that heavily damaged a Mount Airy church in late July.
Preston Odell Epperson, 16, of 108 Chimney Road Rock, has been arrested on felony charges of burning a church or religious building and breaking and entering a place of worship.
Epperson and two other youths allegedly entered and set fire to Closer Walk Baptist Church on Roberts Street during the early morning hours of Sunday, July 26.
The blaze resulted in damages estimated at $175,000 and displaced Closer Walks congregation, which since the incident has held services in the Franklin Ruritan Club building while the church can be rebuilt.
Epperson was being held Sunday night in the Surry County Jail in lieu of a $25,000 secured bond, the figure set for the pair arrested earlier.
Investigators have said that officers located several individuals of interest in the area of the fire soon after it occurred. One detective has blamed youths being allowed to roam the city unsupervised during the nighttime for creating the circumstances leading to the act.
The initial contacts made by investigators eventually led to the arrests of Christopher Blake Harrell, 19, of 115 Sassy Lane, and Ryan Rakeem Belton, 18, of 310 Marshall St., within a week after the crime. At that time, officers said more arrests were likely as the probe continued by city police and the State Bureau of Investigation.
Officers involved in the case could not be reached Sunday for additional information concerning how Epperson became implicated and any further arrests that might be made.
Closer Walks pastor, Doug Cockerham, has said that along with the trauma of having the church burned, he was hurt by the fact that teens who were involved came to the scene while the fire was being extinguished and acted sympathetic.
In addition to the youths who were arrested, Tammy Lynn Tinsley, 40, of 310 Marshall St., the mother of Belton, has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor offense. Tinsley allegedly supplied alcohol and marijuana rolling papers to those involved in the church break-in and fire, a city detective has said.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.