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17 people homeless after man burns down Bradford County motel, deputies say

WJAX Jacksonville logo WJAX Jacksonville 5/20/2021 ActionNewsJax.com News Staff
a man smiling for the camera: Atlantic Beach man accused of setting motel fire © Provided by WJAX Jacksonville Atlantic Beach man accused of setting motel fire

Deputies have arrested a man who they say set the Economy Inn in Lawtey on fire Thursday morning.

The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office says the suspect is 42-year-old Christian Lee Singleton from Atlantic Beach in Jacksonville.

Firefighters were still working to put out the flames Thursday afternoon. First responders say the inn had been burning since about 7:40 a.m. in the morning.

The sheriff’s office said Singleton set his room on fire, then went next door to a convenience store where he told the clerk he had explosives in the room, his truck, and his back pack. Authorities say he resisted arrest before being taken into custody.

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The Alachua County bomb squad X-Rayed his bag and found what they believed was an explosive item. They safely detonated the bag in the street Thursday morning.

Nine families -- 17 people -- who’d been living at the inn, including the owners, were displaced from the fire, police say. The Red Cross and Salvation Army made contact with the families to help them find shelter.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith told Action News Jax Singleton checked into the motel Thursday morning.

“One individual decides to create this havoc today in our community,” he said.

Law enforcement says officers checked Singleton’s truck and room and found no other explosives.

Chief Deputy Maj. Brad Smith told Action News Jax, “We don’t have any reports of any explosions other than the one that was handled by the bomb squad that was here on scene.”

A multi-agency effort, fire fighters from Bradford County, the City of Starke, and 22 trainees from Clay County helped fight the fire.

“There’s something that created this. So we’re not just throwing him under the bus per se, we want to know why, same as our community, and our community deserves to know why, and that’s where our detectives come in to find out what led him to this point, this stage in his life,” Sheriff Smith said.

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Action News Jax learned Thursday afternoon Singleton was taken from the Gainesville hospital where he had medical evaluations done and placed in jail.

The sheriff’s office says Singleton was involved in a domestic violence incident a few days prior in Jacksonville. There, he had a warrant out for his arrest, Sheriff Smith said.

The sheriffs office says police have spoken to Singleton’s girlfriend in Jacksonville; they say she’s “okay”. Duval County court records show Singleton had a domestic violence injunction with children back in 2014, along with numerous traffic citations.

The Bradford County Sheriff’s Office says Singleton faces several charges including arson, resisting with violence, and possible drug-related charges depending on the outcome of his medical evaluation.

The sheriff’s office says Singleton could also be charged for having what appeared to be an explosive device.

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