Sheriff’s office charges three in North Beaver Church arson

Wil Petty

March 3, 2014

Three individuals have been arrested in connection to a July, 29 2012 arson of North Beaver Baptist Church in West Jefferson, according to Ashe County Sheriff James Williams.

Damion Okoyla Blevins, 21, of Todd and Anthony Dustin Graybeal, 24, of West Jefferson have been charged with setting fire to burn and aid the burning of a house of worship (Class E Felony), breaking and/or entering a place of worship with intent to commit a felony/larceny (Class G felony) and Larceny after Breaking and or entering (Class H felony), according to a press release, sent by the sheriff’s department.

On Wednesday, March 5, the Sheriff’s Office released the name of the third person arrested in connection to the arson.

Kellie Elizabeth Wolfe, 17, of West Jefferson has been charged with setting fire to burn and aid the burning of a house of worship (Class E Felony), breaking and/or entering a place of worship with intent to commit a felony/larceny (Class G Felony) and larceny after breaking or entering (Class H Felony). Wolfe was 16 at the time, and Williams said she will be charged as a juvenile.

Williams said arson is the hardest crime to prove while murder is the easiest.

“A lot of your physical evidence gets destroyed in the fire,” Williams said. “We have known for quite some time who did (the arson) and it just took a lot of hard, dedicated work by the deputies who were putting this together.”

Detective Phil Howell was the primary detective on the case.

Howell said the larceny was $200 worth of coins that came from the kid’s fund from the church. According to the press release, North Beaver Baptist Church sustained $800,000 in losses.

“Pretty much (we solved the arson)by interview, after interview, after interview,” Howell said. “Pretty much just 19 months of interviews. It took us about four months (after the arson) to figure it out.”

Howell said there were two or three different scenarios when they first started the investigation and after four months they had “solidified” the likely scenario. Since the investigation started, Howell said the Ashe County Sheriff’s Department has conducted approximately 30 different interviews.

“We do have some items that were sent to the lab to get prints off of,” he said.

Howell said the fire was put out quickly, despite it happening around midnight. The back-end of the church was still intact and allowed for the deputies to send samples to labs to look for fingerprints.

“There was enough left, that with the ceiling and everything intact, we were able to go in with full gear,” he said.

Williams said Blevins was already in custody following charges of discharging a weapon in a residence.

Bond for all three suspects has been set at $500,000.

Howell said he expects at least two more people will be arrested and charged in connection to the arson.

“And they will be sweating bullets,” Williams said. “I believe there were more involved, and we’ll be finding them shortly.”

Williams said he and Howell had been in contact with the church to make them aware of the arrests.

Howell said there was a lot of relief following the charges being pressed on the suspects.

“As far as feelings go, we’ve known the story since four or five months after the fire, it was us trying to get all of the evidence,” he said. “Once the District Attorney’s office was cool with us charging them, I think that was the point where we relaxed a little, but it turned the heat up on us making sure we had 100 percent of what we needed.”

Williams also echoed that sentiment.

“Just the nature of it being a church and house of worship, it was just eating at me and Phil all the time,” Williams said. “We wanted them (in custody), bad.”

Anyone with additional information about this investigation is asked to call the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office at (336) 846-5633 or Ashe County Crime Stoppers at (336) 846-4188. Crime Stoppers pays cash for information leading to the arrest of individuals connected to certain crimes.

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty