BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - State fire investigators are seeing a disturbing trend as they dig into arson files.
They said criminals are skipping town to get medical care while they are on the run from police. However, a new law is making it easier for detectives to track them and uncover new crimes.
Firefighters are always ready to respond. They noted that accidental house fires are something that usually spike during the winter months. However, Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning said lately his office is seeing more fires associated with drugs, violence, and revenge.
"It's a gutless crime. Many times you don't look your victim in the eye when you set a fire," Browning said.
The suspects aren't just hiding from the people they go after anymore. When they get hurt in the process, Browning said, they are skipping town to get medical treatment.
Such is the case, he said, in Ascension Parish where David McLaughlin, Frankie Morrison, and two others are accused of setting fire to a house to allegedly collect insurance money.
"We were actually able to get a burn injury report from Jefferson Parish, which aided us in developing suspects and getting info that we may not have otherwise known about because it crossed parish lines," Browning said.
State law requires that hospitals report anyone who has second degree burn injuries or more to the Office of the State Fire Marshal within two hours. As a result, Browning said, investigators are uncovering more criminal activity.
"We are actually having meth lab explosions that are occurring that are not being reported to law enforcement or local fire departments, and we see a burn injury and end up going back and finding a crime scene and sometimes a victim," Browning said.
On average, Browning said his office receives 10 to 20 incidents of burn injuries per week.
Since January 2015, he said, 35 of those reports have turned into full blown investigation with multiple arrests.
"People are using fire as a means of committing crimes, now more than ever," Browning said.
Browning blames drugs, a declining economy, and street crimes for the spike.
He said investigators are closing in on people who play with fire. If convicted, you could spend up to 10 years in prison and face penalties that could last a lifetime.
Felons are also added to a database where their names will be cross-referenced in future criminal investigations.