But they indicted him on only eight counts because, under Georgia law, prosecutors can’t seek an indictment without signatures from property owners, said detective Stacey Meeks with the LaFayette Police Department.
In Chase’s case, most of the property owners couldn’t be located because Chase targeted long-since-abandoned buildings, Meeks said.
In Georgia, to seek an indictment for arson, a property owner must sign an affidavit stating the defendant had not been hired to destroy the property.
“It has been a nightmare,” Meeks said. “The reason we are limited to eight indictments is because, in a lot of cases, properties he burned had been abandoned for decades.”
Investigators worked with the Walker County tax office searching back taxes and property records, notifying some landowners of property they were unaware had been deeded to them. Several of the properties are considered to have no defined ownership, Meeks said.
The affidavit requirement also delayed indictments for Chase, who was arrested more than a year ago.
But Meeks said authorities are sure they have the right suspect: Since December 2010, when Chase was arrested, there have only been two arsons in LaFayette, Meeks said, and Chase is not a suspect in either case. Authorities believe he set 25-30 fires between 2005 and his arrest.
Chase began as a volunteer firefighter in 2005, was suspended during 2006 and returned in 2007.
“When he was inactive as a volunteer our arsons might be as low as two to three per year,” Meeks said.
When Chase returned as a volunteer, the arsons increased significantly, with nearly 20 arsons in 2010, Meeks said.
Meeks said Chase’s job as a firefighter allowed him to scout buildings to burn. Chase set several fires to which he would then respond as a firefighter, Meek said.
But Chase is not a pyromaniac, which is a person who receives sexual gratification from setting fires, Meeks said. “It appears at this point that he had the ‘hero syndrome.’ He wanted to set them and fight them.”
Chase was arrested seven days after an arson at 1677 West North Main St. in which a witness came forward.
The indictments, which were handed down by a Walker County grand jury, could lead to a May trial if the court calendar proceeds as planned, according to district attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin.