After a dispute about the height of his neighbor’s grass posing a fire hazard, a Hanna, Wyoming, man is accused of setting fire to that grass and burning his neighbor’s house.
Jimmy Lee Clark, 66, faces one count of first-degree arson punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines, plus another charge of criminal trespass, punishable by up to six months in jail and $750 in fines.
The investigation started as a minor disturbance.
What Went Down
Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Garrett Mallcheck went to the home of another Hanna man, Tim Cox, who is 65 this year, early Sept. 5.
Cox had called to report that his neighbor, Clark, had been pounding on Cox’s door and threatening to burn Cox’s house down.
When Mallcheck arrived, Cox said that that Clark was demanding money for having to mow Cox’s lawn. But Cox hadn’t asked Clark to mow his lawn; Clark did that on his own, alleges an evidentiary affidavit filed that same day.
While Clark was yelling about the grass, Cox closed the door on Clark, who returned to the door with a cane in his hand, but this time Cox didn’t open the door, says the affidavit.
Cox and his wife still could hear Clark yelling through the shut door and saying he’d burn their house down, Cox told the deputy.
Then Clark left the home, walking around Cox’s truck as he left.
Cox told the deputy that he was later surprised to find his truck’s fuel door open and gas cap unscrewed, but he didn’t see evidence of sugar or any other tampering, the affidavit relates.
Lawn Mowing: $100
Mallcheck walked over to Clark’s house next door to Cox’s house.
Clark came to the door “smelling heavily of an alcoholic, flavored beverage and immediately began denying that he had done anything,” the document says.
Clark reportedly said he mowed his neighbor’s lawn because the grass was knee high and it was a fire danger. For this he wanted $100.
Clark said Cox was refusing to pay him, and that Cox had been cussing at Clark, the affidavit says.
So, Clark had walked up to the front door, knocked and demanded $100 for mowing the lawn.
Mallcheck cited Clark for trespassing and said any money he expects from Cox should be handled as a “civil issue.”
Then Mallcheck and other officers left the scene to attend other calls.
And Now It’s On Fire
Mallcheck was in the Medicine Bow office of the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office when dispatch called him to the Hannah home again at 10:21 a.m.
This time, said dispatch, Cox’s house was on fire.
Mallcheck got there about 20 minutes later and saw Clark standing in his own back yard, holding a garden hose as his neighbor’s house burned, the affidavit claims.
Fire had damaged Cox’s house.
“Clark was spraying water in the direction of the Cox home, and smoke was smoldering off the Cox home,” says the affidavit.
The Hanna Fire Department was on scene handling the fire. Mallcheck handcuffed Clark, put him in the caged back seat of his patrol truck and went to interview Tim Cox – again.
Cox agreed to file a written statement and sat down with the paperwork. The written statement claims that Cox started smelling smoke about 10 a.m. from inside his home. He went outside and saw burning grass. Then he called 911.
He had a fire extinguisher, Cox wrote, but was waiting to see flames before taking further action.
No Gasoline Though
Mallcheck took Clark to the jail in Rawlins.
Arson investigators asked the deputy to let them study Clark’s clothing for evidence of accelerant chemicals, like gasoline. But the investigators soon discovered that though the fire was manmade, the person who made it had not used accelerants. So, they didn’t take Clark’s clothes as evidence, says the affidavit.
Mallcheck asked Cox for more details in a follow-up interview.
Cox said he went out to deploy his fire extinguisher and found Clark “ineffectually” spraying water in front of where the fire burned.
“If you mess with me, I am going to mess with you,” Clark said during the blaze, according to Cox’s interview.
Clark’s case ascended to the Carbon County District Court on Sept. 13.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.