Surveillance video leads Columbus police to accused arsonist - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Surveillance video leads Columbus police to accused arsonist

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Robert H. Wright III (photo source: Muscogee County Jail) Robert H. Wright III (photo source: Muscogee County Jail)
Police remove evidence from Wright's home on Front Ave. Police remove evidence from Wright's home on Front Ave.
COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

Robert Wright, 25, stood in front of a Muscogee County Recorder's Court judge Thursday, accused of intentionally setting a fire in the middle of the night at a Columbus mechanic. 

He pleaded not guilty to the charges of first degree arson, second degree burglary, and second degree criminal damage in connection with an August 6 fire at Tim's Foreign Car Service on 15th Street.

Detectives said they were led to Wright after reviewing external surveillance video on neighboring buildings in the area.  Police said they saw a vehicle matching the description of Wright's truck at the scene of the crime.  Police also interviewed the owner of the business, who said he saw Wright in the building earlier that same night.  The owner said a group of his friends were participating in some amateur boxing on the premises after the close of business, and according to the owner, Wright was in their company.

After everyone left for the night, police said security cameras show Wright's vehicle returning afterward.  Police accuse Wright of using his truck to ram the garage door to gain access.  The fire started shortly afterward.

Wright's defense attorney, Richard Hagler, is not impressed with the video evidence.  He said the appearance of Wright's vehicle is not especially unique and the truck in the video could belong to any number of other people.

" . . .There's no tag number, the video itself is of such poor quality, they cannot even come up with an identifying mark about the individual who supposedly got out of the truck, [Wright] has been a friend of the man who owns the place.  He's aided him in a time of earlier trouble.  I think the case at this point is extremely minimal.  I think the police and the fire department probably rushed to judgment simply because they are under such pressure due to all the burnings in the Historic District," said Hagler.

Police seized bags of evidence and computers from Wright's Front Avenue home shortly after he was taken to jail Wednesday morning.

Columbus Fire Marshal, Ricky Shores, said Wright broke into the building at about 2:14 a.m. and set two vehicles on fire. Two people were in an adjoining business at the time, but they escaped safely. 

An automatic sprinkler system helped contain the flames until the fire department arrived.   

Shores would not comment on whether the method used to set these cars on fire was similar to the way cars on Broadway and Front Avenue have been set on fire in the past.

Police have not charged Wright with any of the arsons from the neighborhood where he lives and Shores warns people who are concerned about these fires not to jump to conclusions. Regarding the fire at the auto shop, Shores added that Wright is innocent until proven guilty.

Over the last several years, nearly a dozen late night vehicle arsons have been reported to police in the Historic District. The incidents are especially concentrated on the streets surrounding Wright's house, and none of them have been solved.

Wright's next door neighbor has been a victim of these crimes twice.

Following last month's most recent occurrence of a vehicle arson in the Historic District, Wright showed reporters the security cameras he was installing to protect his property.

Wright's attorney, Richard Hagler, lives in the Historic District himself.  He has personally experienced the climate of fear associated with the unsolved arsons and he believes in his heart that his client had nothing to do with them.

"He's been accused of arson, and now, the inference is, the talk, the gossip, and I say it's pure gossip, is that he's a suspect down in the District, and he's not," said Hagler.

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