REPORTED HERE FIRST
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Alleged serial arsonist James Bates admitted to setting fires as far back as the 1970s, but said he managed to suppress the urge for some time, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office in announcing his arrest this evening.
That all ended back in December, when Sheriff's investigators said Bates returned to old habits.
In a span of less than seven weeks starting in early December, five fires were intentionally set in the New Smyrna Beach area.
Four of them did only minimal damage, as matches were used to burn patches of front yards or in one case, a flower bed, in the vicinity of Katy Drive and Doris Drive. But the fifth, on Jan. 19, caused thousands of dollars in damage to the clubhouse at the Sea Woods subdivision. An accelerant, lighter fluid, was used in that fire.
A joint investigation by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and the State Fire Marshal's Office resulted in the arrest of Bates on Monday on a series of criminal charges. Initially, Bates was charged with five felony counts of arson and booked into the Volusia County Branch Jail on $150,000 bond. But that's not the end of the trouble for the 44-year-old Bates.
"Investigators discovered that Bates would also roam around the neighborhood to watch the blazes and then steal property from residences he passed along the way," Sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said. "In fact, it was his habit of roaming the neighborhood that helped lead to his capture."
Sheriff's investigators also charged Bates with five counts of theft for stealing small-scale items -- such as a lawn chairs, a lawn ornament, a plant, a tire cover, a plastic bench and two seat cushions -- from residential yards mostly on Katy Drive, about a half-mile from where he lives with his mother at 4652 Saxon Drive.
Davidson said investigators were initially led to Bates after a resident spotted a suspicious man walking around a neighborhood, pilfering through trash and recycling bins. Deputies identified the man as Bates, and beginning in January, investigators placed him under surveillance. An anonymous tipster also called Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida and identified Bates as the person responsible for the fires.
"As evidence in the case mounted, investigators with both the Sheriff's Office and Fire Marshal's Office confronted Bates for a second time on Monday," Davidson said. "During questioning, Bates admitted to committing the arsons, saying he set fires when gets mad. Lately, he said he has been angered by things that co-workers have said about him."
Bates was transported to the Branch Jail in Daytona Beach. The investigation is ongoing.