“Shadowy figure” and “stacks of cash”: Investigative reports give details on “suspicious fire”
SOUTH CONGAREE, S.C. (WIS) - New incident reports on the “suspicious fire” of a South Congaree landlord include arson allegations and a description of the “stacks of cash” firefighters found.
WIS obtained the incident reports from the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, the Lexington County Fire Services, and the South Congaree Police Department for the Oct. 16, 2022 fire on the 400 block of Dunbar Road in South Congaree.
The home is owned by landlord Naomi Halter. WIS had aired an investigation and follow-up report about conditions at some of Halter’s mobile home properties and the civil cases stemming from her properties just days before the fire.
Halter was not injured in the fire but a firefighter was reported to have suffered a minor injury.
The cause of the fire remains unclear.
The South Congaree Police Department report
Major Steven Jonas filed the South Congaree Police Department report on the incident, listing the incident as a “suspicious fire.”
Jonas wrote the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department and Fire Services were called in to lead the investigation.
He wrote the fire appeared to start in the area of Halter’s home office. When WIS visited the office in September, it appeared to be where she handled some of her leasing business.
Jonas wrote the original 911 caller was an early-morning walker who saw smoke coming from the property.
“Lex Co fire dept personnel located large amounts of unsecured U.S. currency in coin & cash form that was in the area of the kitchen & common area of the victim’s residence.”
He wrote the fire department personnel gathered the money and notified supervisors, staging the money in the driveway.
Jonas wrote Halter was not on the scene, but her attorney was notified to secure the property.
WIS asked Police Chief Josh Shumpert why the money was present.
“We have to document pretty much anything that we’d seen. That money, don’t know exactly how much it was, how much cash was there. It was enough to make us feel like we needed this to give that over to family members or either her attorney, which we did on scene. To try to secure the individual’s belongings as much as we can,” he said.
Lexington County Sheriff’s Department report
LCSD Deputy Katelyn Kniphfer filed LCSD’s incident report, responding to a “suspicious fire.”
“I was advised that the homeowner, Naomi Halter, had made comments suspecting arson due to recent issues regarding her being a landlord.”
Kniphfer wrote she spoke to Halter while Halter was on a stretcher waiting to be transported to the hospital. The spokesperson for Lexington County reported to WIS that the transport was non-emergent, and the fire services report does not reflect any injury to Halter.
“Naomi advised me that she believes that somebody set this fire to her house due to having issues with the media and reporters following her for the court cases that she has. Naomi stated that she woke up hearing her smoke detectors going off and then realized that there was smoke inside of her house. Naomi advised that she got up out of bed and began walking down the hallway and noticed a large amount of smoke filling her house so she began to exit the house out of the front door. Naomi advised that as she was exiting the residence, she believes that she saw a shadowy figure running from her garage area.”
She wrote it was difficult to determine the cause of the fire “due to the material items that were on the floor, counters, and lined in various locations inside the residence.”
Lexington County Fire Services report
The county fire services report is a compilation of smaller reports by multiple authors. It lists the report as completed by Justin Buck.
It shows 35 firefighters on the scene with 17 “apparatus.”
The narratives largely discuss firefighter arrival and maneuvers to extinguish the fire.
An incident narrative by Firefighter Kristopher Lange described how a crew went in through the front door but “was hindered by hoarding conditions” and met with “heavy fire.”
He wrote the crew helped locate and remove large amounts of money that were located in the kitchen and laundry room area.
“Crew removed dozens of coin-filled jars and multiple stacks of cash from the home & placed them in the driveway where law enforcement was staged.”
Firefighter Trent Campbell echoed comments made about the removal of money while Firefighter William Dorroh also cited hoarding conditions as an impediment.
He said he spoke with Halter and “she stated that someone had started the fire, and when she came out of the house, she saw someone driving off.”
Halter’s future as a landlord in South Congaree is unclear.
The town revoked her business licenses in August and she is scheduled to appeal the decision on Nov. 1.
If the appeal fails, the four mobile home parks will be closed and the residents will be given 30 days to leave.
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