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Fire Commissioner presents reward check to local citizen
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John Oxendine, Georgia Insurance and Safety Commissioner, and Bud Ousborn of the Georgia Arson Control Board traveled to Newton County Fire Station No. 1 Thursday to present a reward check to the NCFD and Newton County Sheriff’s Department, who accepted the $6,500 for an anonymous citizen whose tip led to the arrest and conviction of four arsonists.

The information provided by the local resident pertained to an October 2006 fire that destroyed two automobiles and a home on Picket Bridge Road. The damage to the home and cars was estimated at $200,000.

Sheriff Ezell Brown, who was a lieutenant at the time and lead the investigation into the fire, said two males and two females — all Covington residents — were eventually convicted because of the information provided by the tipster. Oxendine said a woman and three of her friends set her ex-boyfriend’s car ablaze, which spread to another vehicle and eventually a home. He said the people inside the home barely escaped with their lives.

The four convicted in the fire each received five years in prison and 20 years probation.

"We simply want to encourage anyone with information regarding an arson to come forward and let them know this is a real reward," Oxendine said. "Crime doesn’t pay, but being a good citizen does."

According to Oxendine, the woman who came forward with the information in this case was not aware of the Georgia Arson Control Reward Program or the Georgia Arson Hotline. Rewards of up to $10,000 are granted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of arsonists. Oxendine said the money does not come from the legislature, but rather from the support of property/casualty insurance companies.

Ousborn said since 1979, Georgia Arson Control has granted rewards to 510 individual for a total of $1,459,350.

"Without the help of the citizens," said NCFD Deputy Chief Tim Smith, "we couldn’t prove these cases."

He encouraged anyone with information regarding suspicious behavior or knowledge of an arson to call local fire or law enforcement officials or the Georgia Arson Hotline at (80) 282-5804. Tipsters can remain anonymous.