07/09/09 — Distraught woman sets home on fire

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Distraught woman sets home on fire

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on July 9, 2009 1:46 PM

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Mount Olive firefighters rushed to 109 E. James St. on Wednesday at about 8:20 p.m. after Mount Olive town commissioners, exiting their evening meeting at town hall just across the street, spotted a fire burning on the porch.

MOUNT OLIVE -- The Mount Olive town board meeting erupted in flames Wednesday night.

What began as a routine vote to give the owners of home being discussed for a public nuisance vote, 90 more days to complete the ongoing work on their home, ended in a physical struggle between one of the co-owners of the house and Mount Olive Chief of Police Ralph Schroeder as the stunned town commissioners and Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. looked on from across the street.

Rebecca Herring, co-owner of the property at 109 E. James St. in Mount Olive told the commissioners during the 7 p.m. meeting that despite a signed letter from her husband, Bobby Herring, that requested an extension to complete the work, she did not want the extension.

"I want you to leave me alone," the visibly upset Mrs. Herring said.

McDonald said he had never before seen a situation where a husband, co-owner of a property, wanted an extension and his wife, the other co-owner, did not.

Mrs. Herring was adamant that she did not want the extension.

"It's not any of your damn business," she said.

"It may not be, but under the law it is," McDonald replied.

Herring said in his letter that he could not attend the meeting, and the mayor expressed concern over not granting the request without input from the other co-owner of the property.

The letter, dated July 8, and signed by Bobby Herring, stated that the owners "have made substantial progress in improving the house at 109 East James Street."

"Additional time is needed to make other necessary repairs. Our plans are to finish the exterior painting; including painting the roof, underpinning and porch floor. We would appreciate the additional time needed to complete this project," Herring wrote.

"I feel like we've gotta do what he asks," McDonald said.

"There won't be any more work done on it in 90 days," Mrs. Herring told the board.

And if the commissioners voted to extend the time on the property, the house would "be worse tomorrow," Mrs. Herring said.

The commissioners decided to vote on the issue. Mrs. Herring walked out of the meeting before the vote was held. The board voted unanimously to grant the 90-day extension.

Minutes later, following the conclusion of the meeting at about 8 p.m., town commissioners exiting town hall noticed fire burning on the front porch of the house in question. The flames were easily visible from the parking lot and front lawn of town hall.

Schroeder crossed the street and stomped out the flames, then began knocking on the door and asking Mrs. Herring to open it.

As the Mount Olive town commissioners and mayor watched from the parking lot and sidewalk in front of town hall, a white SUV pulled into the driveway and a man later identified as Mrs. Herring's son jumped out and joined Schroeder on the porch.

Herring began yelling for his mother to open the door, then kicked the door and kicked in a pane of glass in a window next to the door. He then went around the side of the house, reappearing a moment later on the roof.

After repeated requests that Mrs. Herring open the door, Schroeder kicked in the door. Mrs. Herring physically confronted Schroeder, screaming and using profanities, as her son turned back and climbed down from the roof.

Schroeder struggled for a few moments with Mrs. Herring, and as her son returned, Schroeder placed Mrs. Herring on the ground and handcuffed her. Schroeder and Herring then escorted Mrs. Herring across the street to the police station.

An ambulance from Wayne County EMS, two engines from the Mount Olive Fire Department and investigator C.J. Weaver also responded to the scene. Firefighters entered the home and reportedly found no further evidence of fire.

Daughter Amy Raiford supported the suspicion that her mother set the fire, but said she believed that Mrs. Herring was not in control of herself at the time.

"Yes, I believe she did set it," Mrs. Raiford said. "She's not herself. She just lost control."

The town commissioners remained at town hall until after Mrs. Herring was escorted to the police station.

Mrs. Herring's husband Bobby Herring is "a fine gentleman, that's all I can say about it," McDonald said.

Mayor Pro Tempore Kenny Talton called the event "very shocking, disappointing."

The homeowners had already started doing everything the board asked them to do, and the board would have given them a second extension if necessary, he said.

"We compromise as best we can. We were willing to do what was necessary to save this house," Talton said.

Even during the meeting, something had seemed strange, he said.

"You know she had something on her mind, she was determined to do something. I just didn't know it would be this," Talton said. "It's my worst-case scenario."

The last thing he wanted to do was to push someone to such a degree of action, he said.

"That's not what it's about at all," Talton said.

Schroeder planned to have Mrs. Herring committed at Wayne Memorial Hospital under emergency conditions, officials said, but her daughter said Schroeder had presented them with several options.

Bobby Herring was out of town performing with a musical group during the board meeting and the events afterward, she said.

"My father is off singing gospel music, and this is what he gets to come home to," Mrs. Raiford said.

No charges have been filed against Mrs. Herring, Mount Olive officials said.