Riverton Man Says Spilled Gas, Cigarette Caused Fire That Killed Girlfriend

A Riverton man charged Thursday with manslaughter after his girlfriend died in a “suspicious” fire told police that he spilled gasoline in several rooms of their house and it ignited when he lit a cigarette.

Clair McFarland

May 10, 20243 min read

Vernon Doney
Vernon Doney (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The Riverton man charged with manslaughter in the “suspicious” fire that killed his girlfriend said he spilled gasoline he’d been trying to mix with oil near her bedroom, then it was ignited when he lit a cigarette to calm himself down, according to court documents filed Thursday. 

Vurnon Murice Doney, 55, faces one count of involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

His case is ongoing in Riverton Circuit Court, but if the court finds probable cause, it will rise to the Fremont County District Court level in the coming days. 

Riverton Police Department officers were called to a house fire just east of City Park at about 2:19 the morning of April 26, according to an evidentiary affidavit filed Thursday by Riverton Police Department Detective Bhagya Nethicumara. 

Doney was the person who called emergency personnel to the scene by reportedly saying the house was engulfed in flames and his girlfriend, Eve Newton, 48, was trapped in her room. 

Riverton volunteer firefighters responded and found Newton deceased in the front bedroom, lying with her upper body on the bed and her lower body resting on clutter that lay next to the bed on the floor. She was clutching what appeared to be a pair of black jeans in her hands, says the affidavit. 

An autopsy completed three days later reportedly revealed soot in Newton’s airways, indicating she was alive and breathing during the fire.

For Minor Burns

Personnel took Doney to SageWest Health Care In Riverton for his minor burn and smoke inhalation injuries. There, Nethicumara interviewed him while hospital staffers treated blisters around his neck and on his left hand, the detective wrote in the affidavit. 

Doney allegedly told Nethicumara that Newton was arguing with him just before the fire. He decided to spend the night in his van and ride his two-stroke motorcycle to work the next morning. But he needed to mix gasoline and oil for the motorcycle, and he went inside to get his gas can, which was in the bathroom, the affidavit relates. 

Once inside, he and Newton started arguing again, he reportedly said, adding that he spilled gas in the living room, Newton’s bedroom, his bedroom and in the bathroom.

The document says that about half an hour or 45 minutes later, Doney lit a cigarette to calm himself down, which caused his own clothes to catch fire. He was just outside Newton’s bedroom door when that happened, he said. 

Doney told Nethicumara he tried to put out the fire by getting water from the bathroom faucet and showerhead, but that didn’t work, the affidavit says. 

He reportedly said Newton was not able to jump over the fire to reach her bedroom door nor was she able to get to her bedroom window. 

What Fire Investigators Said

Fire investigators determined that the fire’s area of origin appeared to be inside Newton’s bedroom near the foot of the bed, the affidavit says. 

“There was what appeared to be a remnant of a burnt gas can at the entrance to Newton’s room, between the doorway and the foot of the bed,” Nethicumara wrote in the affidavit. 

Riverton police arrested Doney on Thursday. 

Vernon Doney, seen at left being arrested May 9, 2024, reportedly told Riverton police that the fire his girlfriend died in was caused after he spilled gasoline in their home and lit a cigarette.
Vernon Doney, seen at left being arrested May 9, 2024, reportedly told Riverton police that the fire his girlfriend died in was caused after he spilled gasoline in their home and lit a cigarette. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter