Police: Man set fire to house then took own life

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) –   Columbus Police believe a man down on his luck, his home in foreclosure, used gasoline to set his home on fire and as the flames spread, took his own life.

According to officials, the house fire off of Macon Road appears to be a suicide and that the homeowner was dead before the flames got to him.

Firefighters found the body of a man inside a burning home on Arnold Drive Wednesday afternoon.

Investigators believe the man that lived there, whose name is not yet being released by the Coroner's Office, used gasoline to set two separate fires in two different rooms of the house then shot himself in the chest with a shotgun as the home burned around him.

According to police, the homeowner lived alone.

They say his body was found in a room adjacent to the area that contained the main part of the fire and crews were able to get the flames put out before his body was badly burned.

Officials do not believe anyone else was involved in the fire or death at this point.

WTVM crews spotted a burned lawnmower in the front yard of the house but it is unknown if that was the source of gasoline used to set the fire.

On Wednesday afternoon, a separate call went out over the scanner that a woman had arrived at the Saint Francis Hospital emergency room with several burns on her hands but investigators learned her injuries were a few days old and that she had nothing to do with the fire.

City records show the home belongs to Richard Smith. According to the Columbus Human Resources Director Tom Barron, Smith worked as a garbage truck driver for Columbus from December 1991 to October 2007.

Smith's neighbors say they noticed a change in his behavior in recent weeks, spotting him walking around his home looking "lost" and "distraught" and they believe the foreclosure on his home was to blame for his death.

"I noticed in the last week or so, he'd walk around out here. He look like he was distraught. He looked like he'd lost his best friend. I just found out that they were going to take his property. I hate for anybody to get in the condition where they'd take their life because of something that's not just their problem, their unfortunate situation. It's the government's situation too. These people have paid on their houses for years. They're losing everything they got," said Homer Lockhart, Smith's neighbor.

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