Three charged in arson

COVINGTON -- Deputy Chief Tim Smith of the Newton County Fire Service has announced the arrest of three suspects in a Nov. 30 fire at a Jackson Lake home that has been ruled arson.

Arrested and charged with first degree arson and second degree criminal damage to property are Britney Lekia Baker, 20, and Robert Vincent Lambert, 35, who according to Newton County Detention Center records is listed as homeless. Lambert is also charged in connection with the murder of Drew Nichols in early December. Also arrested and charged with first degree arson is Mindy Monique James, 21, of 30 Pope Trail.

"We are still investigating and more charges could be forthcoming," Smith said, adding that he would not release further details of the crime at this time. "We know how the fire started and where it started and that it was started intentionally. The house was set on fire while occupied, so luckily the people got out of there."

Smith said there were six residents asleep at 50 Waters Bridge Circle when the fire began about 10:45 p.m. When firefighters arrived, flames were coming through the roof.

"We had to initiate a water shuttle as they don't have water down there," Smith said at the time of the blaze. "The house was a total loss."

Smith said Tuesday afternoon the loss is estimated to be between $250,000 to $300,000 for the house, plus the loss of a vehicle parked in the garage.

Lambert, along with three other men, was charged in connection with the Nichols murder after Nichols' body was found by a deer hunter in a Walton County field just outside Social Circle on Dec. 6. Newton County Sheriff's Office investigators determined the murder actually took place in Newton County.

In other fire news, Smith also reported two additional arsons that occurred this week.

About 3:15 p.m. Monday, a fire was intentionally set in front of the door to an occupied apartment on the first floor of The Lofts in Porterdale.

"Someone came out of another unit and saw it and extinguished the fire," Smith said.

He said there was no doubt that fire was intentionally set.

Also, a homeowner came home to 75 Spring Valley Trace around 2:30 Tuesday afternoon to discover his living room was on fire.

"No one was at home at the time of the fire. There was minimal damage done to the inside of the residence," Smith said, adding that the homeowner called 911 and the fire was extinguished.

Smith said in both incidents this week a reward is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists. The Georgia Arson Hotline is 800-282-5804 and the NCFS hotline is 678-625-5050. Information can also be given at the Web site at www.newtoncountyfireservice.org. Rewards can be up to $10,000.