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Million dollar arson draws $15,000 reward

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POSTED: January 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.
The state of Georgia Arson Control Unit along with the owner of Oliver’s Bushhogging Company are offering a combined $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of person(s) responsible for the destruction of company equipment a few weeks ago on the Devendorf’s property in Midway.
Oliver’s Bushogging Company, based in Beaufort, S.C., was hired to clear some of the land the Devendorf’s are preparing to develop in an area off Charlie Butler Road near the Cay Creek Interpretive area.
The equipment being used to clear the land was being stored in a remote area about five miles beyond the historic Cay Creek Cemetery.
The only way access is a long, winding dirt road that crosses an old, metal-plate bridge on one side and a small boat channel through the bluff on the other.
“We received the call from a hunter who was out in the area. By the time he found it, the fire was already out and the equipment was torched, completely,” Liberty County Fire and Arson Investigator James Ashdown said.
“Our investigation lead us to the conclusion that the fire was not accidental and the state Arson Control Unit agrees with our findings,” Ashdown said.
Sam Crews, an employee of Oliver’s said, “We clean the equipment after we finish our work every day. We cleaned the equipment that Friday afternoon, left the equipment just before dark and got the call the next morning that it was all destroyed,” Crews said.
Among the equipment destroyed was a 2007 Freightliner truck with work equipment and tools.
“That truck only had 1,800 miles on it,” Crews said. “It’s such a shame.”
Also destroyed were two new multi-function machines used to clear trees and bushes,  a new trailer and a four-wheel RTV.  Together, the equipment destroyed was worth an estimated $1.2 million.
Ashdown said they are investigating every possible angle of the case.
“Whether it was done as a protest to the new development coming in or just as a dumb joke, we don’t know but we know it was intentional,” Ashdown said.
“We were contacted by the Devendorfs to come and do the work out here,” Crews said. “We are from South Carolina and we came here to Georgia to do a job. We didn’t mean to step on any toes; they (the Devendorfs) contacted us. We were here working for 15 days straight before this happened,” Crews said.
He also wonders who could have done such a thing and wants to know the reason.
“Georgia Power is running their transmission lines from Richmond Hill through here to the substation that recently caught fire,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the fire at the substation was the same day we found our equipment burned. We  were also cutting the right of way for them for their line of sight. We don’t know if it something done as a vendetta against Georgia Power, the new development, the Devendorfs or a bad joke.”
Walter Oliver, the company’s owner said the timing of the fire was something he was having a hard time coping with.
“We’ve been in business for seven years and in that time we never had a machine burn or had an accident, this is the first time,” Oliver said. “It makes me feel sick to my stomach. There was a lot of money lost here, a little over a million dollars.
“It happened the same day my father passed away. It’s a privately owned piece of property that we are doing work on. We were out here for three weeks and we were looking to stay out here for a few more weeks but because of this we had to cut it short. If somebody was angry at the development that is going on here, or the progress of the power company, there was no need to take it out on us. 
“We were here to do a job. We were just a hired company and not in the decision making process to develop this land or not develop this land. We had a bunch of hard workers out here and we were out here to do a good job and because of this some real good people were left without a job,” he said.
Anyone with information is asked to call the tip hotline. Those who provide information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible for the equipment fire are eligible for the $15,000 reward. Call the state of Georgia Arson Control Unit at 1-800-282-5804.
 

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