Robesonian

Maxton officer accused of arson loses job

LUMBERTON — A Maxton police officer who was one of 10 volunteer firefighters charged Tuesday with arson is out of a job.

“He is no longer an employee for the town of Maxton,” Maxton Police Chief Tammy Deese said. “He started with department as a patrolman on March 12, 2018. He was terminated today.”

Melquan Williams, 21, of 105 N. Florence St. in Maxton, was charged with one count each of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $200,000.

The 10 firefighters with the Fairmont Rural and Orrum fire department were arrested as the result of a yearlong investigation involving the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office; State Bureau of Investigation; federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the N.C. Forestry Service, Sheriff Ken Sealey said. Officials say hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage was done.

“The firefighters were involved in a conspiracy over a two-year time period to set numerous woods fires and abandoned structure fires,” Sealey said.

About 90 arson-related charges have been filed in the investigation, he said.

“More arrests and charges of individuals are expected,” Sealey said.

Department of Corrections Officer Austin Seth Hunt also was among the people arrested, according to Sealey. Hunt, 23, of U.S. 301 South in Rowland was charged with six counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods; and two counts of felony arson burning church, uninhabited house, store; and five counts of felony conspiracy. Hunt’s bond was set at $200,000. His work status was unclear.

Seven of those charged are teenagers.

Ashley Marie Oxendine, 18, of Lepine Drive in Orrum, was charged with two counts each of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods. and felony conspiracy. Her bond was set at $100,000.

John Austin Huggins, 17, of Merritt Road in Fairmont, was charged with two counts of felony, setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and four counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

Jordan Scott, 19, of Lennon Drive in Fairmont, was charged with four counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, five counts of felony, arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and nine counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

Kenny Caulder Jr., 19, of East Raynham Road in Fairmont, was charged with six counts of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, and seven counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

Willie Fuentes Strickland, 42, of Lennon Drive in Fairmont, was charged with two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, one count of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and three counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

Jordan Emmanuel Hunt, 18, of East Whitepond Road in Fairmont, was charged with four counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts of felony arson burning uninhabited house, and five counts of felony conspiracy. His bond was set at $100,000.

Shellia Huggins, 19, of Tobacco Road in Fairmont, was charged with two counts of felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods, two counts of felony arson, burning church, uninhabited house, store, and four counts of felony conspiracy. Her bond was set at $100,000.

William Kendall Strickland, 18, of Lennon Drive in Fairmont, was charged with one count each of misdemeanor larceny; felony setting fire to grass, brush, woods; and felony conspiracy. His bond was set $100,000.

All of the arrested individuals were placed in the Robeson County Detention Center, Sealey said.

The Sheriff’s Office supplied photos of only seven of the people arrested.

“This is just the first stage of the investigation,” Sealey said. “It’s a large-scale investigation, with this many firefighters arrested at one time.”

Taxpayers are on the hook for a lot of money when crimes such as this occur, he said.

“Over hundreds of thousands with all the property damage, the house damage, the woods fires, plus, what it costs for firefighters going up and down the road,” Sealey said. “First responders are putting themselves at risk every time they respond to a fire. There could be an accident on the way to a call or an injury.”

According to Sealey, fires were set on Eldorado Road, Collins Mill Road, Oakton Church Road, Atkinson Road, Raynham Road, Reva Road, N.C. 130, Main Street, Mitchell Road, Davis Road, Happy Hill Road, Marion Stage Road, and Pleasant Hope Road, all in Fairmont.

“As far as a motive, we are not releasing that information at this time,” Sealey said.

The sheriff thanked the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office arson investigator and Major Crimes Division, the federal ATF, State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Forestry Service for “the numerous hours and a job well done in these investigations.”

Anyone with information regarding the investigation should contact Lt. Kevin Graham at 910-671-3100 or the SBI at 1-800-334-3000.

Austin Hunt
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Austin-Hunt_1-4.jpgAustin Hunt
Ashley Oxendine
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Ashley-Marie-Oxendine_1-4.jpgAshley Oxendine
Kenny Caulder Jr.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Kenny-Caulder-Jr._2-4.jpgKenny Caulder Jr.
Jordan Hunt
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Jordan-Emmanuel-Hunt_3-4.jpgJordan Hunt
Shellia Huggins
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Shellia-Huggins_4-4.jpgShellia Huggins
William Strickland
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_William-Strickland_1-4.jpgWilliam Strickland
John Huggins
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_John-Huggins_1-4.jpgJohn Huggins
Robeson County Sheriff Ken Sealey joins other local, state and federal law enforcement personnel on Tuesday to announce the arrest of 10 volunteer firefighters on arson charges.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Arson-BW_1-4.jpgRobeson County Sheriff Ken Sealey joins other local, state and federal law enforcement personnel on Tuesday to announce the arrest of 10 volunteer firefighters on arson charges.
Former Maxton police officer Melquan Williams is escorted Tuesday to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office by a State Bureau of Investigation agent after being arrested with nine other people on arson charges. The arrests were the result of a yearlong investigation, and all the people arrested were volunteer firefighters, Sheriff Ken Sealey said.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_Arson-perp-walk_1-4.jpgFormer Maxton police officer Melquan Williams is escorted Tuesday to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office by a State Bureau of Investigation agent after being arrested with nine other people on arson charges. The arrests were the result of a yearlong investigation, and all the people arrested were volunteer firefighters, Sheriff Ken Sealey said.

T.C. Hunter

Annick Joseph

Staff writers

Annick Joseph contributed to this story. She can be reached by calling 910-416-5165 or via email at ajoseph@robesonian.com. T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974 or tchunter@robesonian.com.