Homeowner arrested for arson after fire damages house

Jimmy D. Keel - Submitted photo

A Hot Springs man was charged with arson Wednesday afternoon for allegedly setting a fire that caused thousands of dollars in damages to his home Tuesday morning.

Jimmy D. Keel, 70, of 358 Westinghouse Drive, was taken into custody around 4 p.m. Wednesday and charged with a felony count of arson, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Keel, who has no prior criminal history, was later released on a $10,000 bond and is set to appear June 1 in Garland County District Court.

According to the probable cause affidavit, on Tuesday, shortly after 10 a.m., Keel reportedly called 911 to report a fire inside his Westinghouse Drive residence. The Lake Hamilton Fire Department responded to the scene and extinguished the fire. Damage to the house was estimated at $20,000.

About two hours later, the fire department asked Garland County sheriff's investigators to investigate a possible arson incident related to the fire, after allegedly finding an open container of what appeared to be denatured alcohol and burn patterns that appeared suspicious.

Investigator Charlie Mowery contacted the Arkansas State Police Fire Investigations Division to assist in the investigation and attempt to establish the origin of the fire. On Wednesday, Mowery obtained a search warrant for the residence and he and the ASP investigators and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau investigators went to the residence to investigate.

They reportedly discovered the fire started from multiple points of origin and the door to the room the fire started in was locked when the fire began. Keel reportedly stated he was the only one with a key to the room. There were no other noted sources of ignition, indicating the fire could only have been started "by human interference," the affidavit states.

While Keel was speaking to the investigators, he allegedly made a spontaneous statement that if they were "considering it to be his wife or him, it had to be him." He later voluntarily came to the sheriff's department for questioning and over the course of the interview denied starting the fire.

He stated he and his wife were the only ones present when the fire started. Other investigators spoke to his wife, who also confirmed they were the only ones in the house when the fire began. She also noted the residence had an alarm system that was set around 6 p.m. on Monday.

Investigators contacted the alarm company, which confirmed the alarm was set Monday evening and did not go offline until around 10 a.m. Tuesday when there was a power failure at the house. The company noted none of the alarm sensors were activated between the time it was set Monday evening and went offline around 10 a.m.

The affidavit notes this indicated no outside source could have come into or left the residence during that time. There was a stairway leading to the downstairs that had access to the room where the fire started, and both Keel and his wife stated she could not walk down the stairs due to medical issues.

"Based on the evidence found at the scene, statements from Mr. and Mrs. Keel and the statement of the alarm being set and no door to the residence being opened for approximately 16 hours prior to the start of the fire" Keel was placed under arrest, the affidavit states.

Local on 04/10/2020