Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services investigators took out an arrest warrant on Monday for a man who is believed to set a former co-worker’s home on fire over the weekend.
Fire department spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said Clifford David Malone is facing a first-degree arson charge for the fire, which took place just after 12 a.m. on Sunday at Frances and David Watkins’ home on Amelia Garden Way in Lawrenceville. Investigators spoke with Malone during a traffic stop shortly after the fire, but he is not in custody.
“Authorities say that an arrest is forthcoming,” Rutledge said.
Fire department and law enforcement officials are asking the public for information on Malone’s whereabouts so he can be arrested. Rutledge said anyone with information about him or the arson is asked to call 9-1-1 or the Gwinnett Fire Investigations Section at 678-518-4890.
Fire department officials are leading the arson investigation, but police reports show the case goes beyond someone burning down a house.
Gwinnett County police released two police reports for separate incidents which occurred at 227 Amelia Garden Way on Saturday and early Sunday. The first is for a burglary which took place at the Watkins’ home on Saturday. The other is for the arson that took place just after 12 a.m. on Sunday.
The reports show a dispute between Frances Watkins and Malone, a former co-worker and Lawrenceville resident, is believed to have led to the incident. Police listed Malone as a suspect in the burglary in their report on that incident.
Watkins told police on Saturday night that she had been away from her home from 2:30 a.m. until 10 p.m., but found a rear window broken when she came home. A $250 32-inch Vizio flat screen television was the only missing item listed in the burglary report.
“The victim stated she believes that her house was broken into by a former co-worker that has been staying with her off and on for the last few months,” according to the report.
Watkins accused Malone of threatening her and attempting to burn her home down in the past. She added that he sometimes leaves equipment he uses for an unspecified sprinkler company at the home, but she told police she did not know the company’s name.
“The victim stated she did not witness the break in but believes the suspect is responsible based on their prior history,” officers wrote in the report.
Jail records show Malone has been booked into the Gwinnett County jail 13 times over the last 16 years on a myriad of charges including burglary, theft by taking, theft by receiving, shoplifting, violation of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act, escape, parole and probation violations, failure to appear in court and hold for court.
The police report shows officers explained the process for applying for a temporary restraining order to Watkins before they left her home.
The arson report adds that two family dogs were let out of the house at some point, and that it was believed that the burglar let them out. After police left her home late Saturday, Watkins and her husband began searching their neighborhood for the dogs. They found one and put it back in the house before they left to search for the other dog.
While they were searching for the dog, a witness who lived on Amelia Grove Lane, which is one street over from the Watkins home, called police to report suspicious activity taking place on his street. The witness told police he saw a sports utility vehicle slowly pull up in front of a neighbor’s home, and a man got out of the car and cut through some of the yards of his neighbors.
Watkins and her husband also saw the vehicle and called police as well. They tried to turn around to get a photo of its license plate before they returned to their home, according to the report.
“She stated when the turned around, that’s when they saw him coming from the back yard of the house that backs up to theirs,” according to the report. “Watkins stated Malone ran to his vehicle, got in and took off at a high rate of speed.”
Officers met up with the Watkins and they returned to the house together. When they arrived, they found the house was on fire with flames shooting out of its right side. Officers called fire department to the home at 12:54 a.m., and tried to tried to control the flames with a garden house until fire fighters arrived.
Firefighters arrived at 1:01 a.m. and got the fire under control around 1:23 a.m., according to fire department spokesman Lt. Jerrod Barrett. He added that crews saved the dog that was inside the home and it is reportedly in “great condition.”
Rutledge said Malone could face additional charges “filed by other agencies based on the events leading up to the fire.”