Multiple points of origin in Macon church arson

lfabian@macon.comJanuary 30, 2013 

While firefighters were fighting flames shooting through the roof of Reaching Souls Cathedral of Praise Apostolic Church early Monday, arson investigator Sgt. Ben Gleaton was focused on an open side door.

Crews had not forced it open, and it was the first clue someone intentionally torched the church whose pastor is serving time related to another disaster.

Wednesday, arson investigators announced they found a petroleum-based accelerant and multiple points of origin in the blaze that destroyed the sanctuary building at 5555 Bethesda Ave.

The congregation’s new building at the corner of Rocky Creek Road was not in use and was not damaged.

The former main sanctuary building’s roof collapsed in 2005, which left a pile of rubble and a whole heap of legal trouble.

In March 2008, Pastor Onslow D. Ross was convicted of 54 counts of various financial crimes involving the misuse of a $389,000 insurance check.

Ross is serving 130 months in prison for forging a CB&T Bank signature, depositing the check into a new Security Bank account and writing cashier’s checks to businesses and members of Ross’ family.

This week, fire investigators talked to witnesses and church members.

They have leads, but no suspect has been identified, Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said during a news conference at fire headquarters Wednesday.

When crews arrived shortly after 12:30 a.m. Monday, the side door near the carport of the sanctuary building was already open, Riggins said.

Fire engines had been dispatched for a report of smoke in the neighborhood around the church, which is off Rocky Creek Road near the Bloomfield Road curve.

Flames devoured the roof of the one-story brick building and spread through an adjoining hallway to the social hall, which is in a separate building.

Representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the state Fire Marshal’s Office joined local firefighters Wednesday morning to brief the media on the investigation findings.

On Tuesday, an accelerant detection canine from the state Fire Marshal’s Office confirmed the presence of fire-starting chemicals in the rubble.

Test results on samples sent to the lab will not likely be available for several weeks, Gleaton said.

Anyone with information about the fire, or who saw anything unusual on the property late Sunday, is urged to all the Arson Hotline at (800) 282-5804.

Callers can remain anonymous and could be eligible for up to a $10,000 reward.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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