Authorities officially announced the arrest during a 2 p.m. news conference Wednesday at the LaFayette Police Department.
Marvin Calvin Chase, 32, of 803 Patterson Road in LaFayette was arrested Tuesday around 5 p.m. and charged with first-degree arson, Meeks said. He is facing 20 possible counts of arsons, Meeks said.
Chase was being held Wednesday at the Walker County jail.
Meeks said investigators believe Chase’s motive for setting the fires was his “love for fighting fires and receiving compensation to fight the fires.”
Chase has been a volunteer with the LaFayette Fire Department for the past eight years, Meeks said. He worked for the city’s Waste Water Department for the past several years as well, he said.
In the past five years, the city has seen a surge in arson fires, with up to 30 suspicious fires, Meeks said. Investi-gators saw a pattern to the fires, such as methods of operation and points of origin.
“Most fires had strong similarities,” Meeks said.
Meeks said investigators knew the city was dealing with a serial arsonist, but that it is difficult to pinpoint and convict an arsonist without a witness. But a witness did come forward with information on Chase, he said.
The witness provided investigators with the “missing link we were looking for,” he said.
“The witness confirmed suspicions we already had, but were unable to prove,” Meeks said.
Chase was questioned by federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Devin O’Brien, Georgia State Fire Marshal arson investigator Jerry Parrish, and Meeks.
Chase confessed to many of the arsons, Meeks said.
Meeks said ATFE, the State Fire Marshals Office, and LaFayette Police Department will continue the investiga-tion over the next few weeks and “finish connecting all the pieces of the puzzle together.”
“Over the next few weeks, it is going to be a painstaking process,” Meeks said.
“At that point, we will present that case to the district attorney’s office and the grand jury and seek additional indictments on the many other counts,” he said.
“The police have received a lot of criticism from local blogs, and so on,” Meeks said, referring in particular to The LaFayette Underground. “A lot of people in the community have been pointing their finger at the wrong sus-pect.
“That is why it is so important in investigations like these that you take your time and do everything right. It comes down to probable cause and not hearsay,” Meeks said. “We have to prove everything in the court of law.”
Meeks said other firefighters feel betrayed by Chase. “There are many good firefighters out there,” Meeks said.
More details from news conference
According to LaFayette police chief Tommy Freeman, Chase had a prior arrest for family violence about eight years ago.
Chase, who Freeman said received the exact same training as full-time certified firefighters, arrived first on the scene to most of the arson fires in the area, but this did raise suspicions with authorities.
Freeman said Chase admitted to starting 20 fires within the Linwood community in LaFayette during the past five years.
“There are going to be more charges coming,” Freeman said.
The felony arson charges, Freeman said, could each carry a sentence of one to 20 years in prison.
Meeks said Chase admitted to reaping the benefits of setting the fires and being one of the firefighters to put them out.
Freeman said charges could be added due to injuries firefighters received fighting the fires that Chase started.
According to Freeman, the witness that came forward and gave the tip on Chase was not motivated by the $10,000 reward offered by the state to capture, arrest and charge an arsonist.
Freeman said the tip gave investigators something to work off of, but it took time to get the investigation on Chase going.
According to Georgia State Fire Marshal chief Alan Shuman, volunteer firefighters do go through very extensive background checks.
Investigators will continue to build the case against Chase.
Meeks said Chase’s actions “gives a black eye” to firefighters in the area and asked that citizens not judge the rest of the firefighters based on “one bad apple.”
Meeks said it is believed that Chase would have continued to set the fires if he had not been caught, based on his demeanor in the interview.
Meeks said he does not believe Chase is the only arsonist in the area, but is believed to have set at least 90 per-cent of the fires in the area.
Shuman praised the efforts made by Freeman, the LaFayette Police Department, the State Fire Marshals Office and the ATFE.
“This impacts everyone in this community,” Shuman said.