PERRY -- Thomas Wayne McFarling’s story of diving from a bathroom window to escape a fire that destroyed his home raised suspicions of public safety personnel, who testified Tuesday at his arson trial that they were surprised that his white shirt wasn’t dirty and that he didn’t reek of smoke or suffer any scrapes or bruises.
McFarling, 54, is accused of deliberately setting fire to his Mossy Lake Road home March 15, 2008, after which he filed an insurance claim. The home was insured for $294,300.
Prosecutor Dan Bibler told jurors that McFarling’s clothes were so clean that he looked like “he just got out of the shower.”
Burn patterns showed that the fire started in the hardwood floor near a gas fireplace in the living room, Bibler said. Investigators found that the gas line was disconnected, and the presence of an ignitable liquid was detected in sections of the floor where the fire started, he said.
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But McFarling’s attorney, Laura D. Hogue of Macon, told jurors of a living nightmare experienced by McFarling and his family that started when their home burned to the ground with what was most precious to them, including their pets and priceless heirlooms.
“He lost everything,” Hogue said. “He fortunately escaped, and fortunately, the rest of his family was away.”
Hogue told jurors of another expert witness expected to testify that the ignitable liquid detected in the flooring near the fireplace was also detected elsewhere and was a common component in cleaning solutions for hardwood flooring as well as in what’s left behind from burned furniture and tiles.
She said the family is still living the nightmare with the false accusation of arson lodged against McFarling.
Houston County fire Capt. Bill Smith, who investigated the fire, testified that the fire’s origin was at floor level in front of the fireplace. He said he found burn patterns that indicated the presence of an ignitable liquid.
“Something was poured in that area,” Smith told jurors.
But Hogue questioned Smith about National Fire Protection Association guidelines that irregular patterns found after a fire should not be identified as pourable liquids alone and require lab testing for verification.
She also read guideline sections related to the possibility of petroleum residue being left behind from furniture, ceiling tiles and other furnishings that are burned up in a fire.
Houston County sheriff’s Cpl. Steve Glidden testified of finding McFarling lying in the grass outside his burning home with a cellphone in his hand with the line open to 911 and having to rouse him. Glidden recalled the white shirt McFarling was wearing. “It was clean,” Glidden said. “No dirt.”
Houston County Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Noles testified that McFarling “didn’t even smell like smoke, and that stood out to me.”
Hogue questioned Noles about his statement in a fire report that McFarling had a “light smell of smoke” about him after the fire.
Jeremiah Price, who drove an ambulance to the fire scene, testified that McFarling did not exhibit symptoms of breathing in smoke. McFarling also had no burns or other injuries, based on an emergency medical service report on the call that Price said was authored by someone else.
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday in the trial. Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden is presiding.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.