DUNCAN — In 2006, wildfires ravaged Stephens County, displacing families and livestock.
Around 7 a.m. Wednesday, James Edgar Morgan Jr., 47, of Corum was arrested by Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney on 15 counts of arson in the third degree, which is a felony, pertaining to the burning pasture land. Those fires that Morgan allegedly set date from 2006 to some recent fires.
“This is an investigation that started in January of this year,” McKinney said. “As we all know, our county has been ravaged by wildfires since 2006. One thing I wanted to get a handle on is there were a lot of fires that was suspicious in nature.
“I requested the aid from the Department of Agriculture, their arson unit, and we formed our own little task force. We started reinvestigating all of the fires from 2006 up to the current date.”
If convicted, Morgan faces 15 years in prison for each count or a $10,000 fine for each count, or both. Morgan is a ranch hand and has been a volunteer firefighter in Corum since July of 2006.
“I don’t want people to get a bad impression of firemen,” said McKinney, who is also a volunteer firefighter. “Volunteers are so important.”
District 6 District Attorney Brett Burns said that after the death of Destry Horton in 2006, it brought attention to the work that firefighters do.
“We take these crimes very seriously,” Burns said. “When Destry Horton died a couple of years ago, it brought attention to the work that firefighters do. This crime by a fellow firefighter endangered the lives of civilians and firefighters. We are encouraging anyone with information regarding this case to call the Stephens County Sheriff’s Department. When he gets out of jail, we want to be able to recover restitution for the victims of these fires.”
McKinney, who owns a large parcel of land that was damaged by the wildfires in 2006, said that this arrest meant a lot to him personally.
“It is a great relief to me,” McKinney said. “My house came close to burning, and a lot of my pasture land did burn in 2006. A lot of my neighbors lost their homes in fires ... It is a big relief off of my shoulders to have this particular person in jail.”
Morgan could be facing more charges.
“We are looking at that right now. This investigation is still going on. The charges that we filed yesterday (Tuesday) with the district attorney’s office are supported by a written confession by Mr. Morgan taking claim for these fires. We have physical evidence that puts him there. It is a fluid investigation and we are looking at the additional amount of fires in that area.”
The Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Agriculture have been able to link Morgan to a specific area right now.
“We’ve got him linked to the Corum and Comanche area, the southwest part of our county. [That area] has experienced an extremely large amount of fires in the last few years.
“We’ve got it narrowed down to farm land and crop land that does include fences,” McKinney said. “That puts our ranchers and farmers in some bad situations.”
McKinney said that an arson case is tough to investigate.
“It is difficult to with arson because most of the evidence burns up,” he said. “This took a lot of hard work. He set most of his fires when he had prime conditions.”
McKinney made sure to point out that the arrest was a team effort.
“I’m proud of the support that we had from the Department of Agriculture and working together as a team to get this guy off the streets and in jail where he belongs,” McKinney said. “I’m proud of my office, The men that we have here have done an excellent job.”
First Assistant District Attorney Dennis Gay said that Morgan had his initial appearance in district court on Wednesday, and his bond was set at $75,000.
Gay also noted that Morgan could face many additional charges, one of which is endangering a firefighter by setting a fire. A conviction on that charge would carry a maximum 10-year sentence.
“We are just glad that he isn’t in a position to set more fires,” Gay said.
Burns added, “This case would not be possible if it wasn’t for the work of Sheriff McKinney and his staff, as well as the agricultural investigators. They all did a great job.”
Posted on Thu, July 2, 2009
by Ron Booth, Duncan Reporter