Former Tennessee Fire Chief Found Guilty of Arson
HENNING, Tenn. (AP) -- The former Henning fire chief has been found guilty of setting fire to his own department's fire station.
A federal jury found earlier this week that John Allen Laton, 49, set the fire that caused $150,000 in damage to the Henning Fire Department on March 3, 2000, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office.
Laton, whose sentencing is set for March 1, faces five to 20 years in federal prison, according to Terrell L. Harris, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
Laton was the chief of the Henning department and served as Lauderdale County fire coordinator/director at the time of the fire.
He also worked as a fire investigator for Engineering and Fire Investigations, a national company that provides fire investigative services for insurance companies and other private sector clients.
''This arson involved a person in a position of public trust, which is very unfortunate,'' said James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Nashville Field Division.
The arson investigation began when Laton contacted ATF and others about an ''electrical'' fire that ''didn't require an ATF response'' at the Henning Fire Department, officials said.
It was determined that the fire was set intentionally in the fire chief's office with an accelerant, which causes materials to burn faster. That ruled out an electrical or accidental blaze.
A time-delay ignition system later was found hidden under a couch in Laton's office, with a bag of charcoal and gasoline used to create the fire. ATF agents traced the charcoal to Laton, who bought it the day of the fire.
Also, a witness said he saw Laton at the fire station two hours before the fire started.
A search of Laton and his home and truck turned up a receipt for a programmable timer and gasoline on the day of the fire.