Police: Man ignited apt. to stop thefts

Published 4:05 pm Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Winchester man admitted to setting his downtown apartment on fire because he was tired of people stealing from him,

Billy Joe Ross, 59, of 40 N. Main St., Apt. 5, was arrested early Friday morning for first-degree arson for allegedly starting the blaze Thursday night.

Winchester Police Capt. James Hall said Ross was standing outside the apartments when firefighters and police officers arrived around 9:40 p.m. Thursday.

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“There were several witnesses who we interviewed,” Hall said. “There was one he’s cohabitating with who confirmed his story.”

Four people were treated for smoke inhalation, three at Clark Regional Medical Center and one at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Winchester Fire-EMS Battalion Chief Chris Whiteley said.

Three were rescued from a third-floor window overlooking Main Street by firefighters on the department’s new ladder truck.

The fire was contained to the second floor of the three-story building, Whiteley said, though fire was getting close to the third floor before they got it knocked down.

“We had heavy fire on the second floor from the windows,” Whiteley said. “It had a good jump on us.”

Whiteley said he called for a second alarm response as well as a general alarm which brought Clark County firefighters to assist and Lexington firefighters to help cover the city and county.

In all, firefighters were on the scene for about two hours, he said.

Eric Sparks, a partial owner of 40 and 42 N. Main St., said Ross was not a tenant but was visiting someone who rented a room.

“I was here five or six times (Thursday) and I’d never seen him,” Sparks said Friday afternoon. “I’m glad all the systems in the building worked as they were supposed to. It’s devastating to some of the people here. I’m just glad no one got hurt.

Ross, who was lodged in the Clark County Detention Center on a $100,000 bond, has no criminal record, aside from a 2007 arrest for alcohol intoxication and two subsequent contempt of court charges in that case, according to court records. Hall said Ross had not filed any reports or complaints with the police department.

Whiteley said neighboring buildings, as well as two businesses on the first floor, may have received some smoke, water or heat damage from the fire.

Sparks said there were about a dozen tenants in the apartments. The Red Cross responded to the scene to help those who were displaced by the fire.

The fire and reported reason is similar to another apartment fire Jan. 13 at 41 Buckner St. Frank Rayburn allegedly set a fire in his apartment in the building because people kept stealing from him, according to court records. Rayburn has been indicted for first-degree arson and is awaiting further court action.

No one was injured in that incident.

Whiteley praised firefighters’ efforts in battling the blaze and in the rescue of three people.

“These guys go through hundreds and hundreds of hours of training for this,” he said. “We couldn’t afford one hiccup for things to go well (Thursday) night. They absolutely did an awesome job.”

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun, the Jessamine Journal and the State Journal. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@bluegrassnewsmedia.com or call 859-759-0051.

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