Firefighters battling a fire overnight in west Chatham County found a man dead inside the charred building. The fire broke out around 9:30pm last night at Yellow Tire on US Highway 17 and Silk Hope Road.
When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the building. Southside and Garden City firefighters worked together for several hours to get the fire under control. When they did, they found the body of an unidentified man in a back room of the abandoned business.
The body was sent to the crime lab for an autopsy.
"The next step for investigators is to determine how he died, if he was killed prior to the fire or if he died as a result of the fire," said Sgt. Mike Wilson of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.
Police have detained 48-year-old Tito Vega in connection with this fire. Police charged Vega with one count of arson and more charges are possible pending the autopsy results. He's being held in the Chatham County jail.
Homicide and arson investigators were out today sifting through the rubble. As you can see from this image captured on WTOC Mobile Skycam, there's not much left, except the concrete shell of this old tire store.
While police are still looking for clues, some of their best information has come from an eyewitness.
Tony Maye drove by the abandoned tire store on his way home last night, just as the fire began. "I saw a small fire on the inside of the shop, and I knew the shop had been closed for a while," he said. "So I turned around and came back, and that's when the fire was a little bit bigger."
Maye says he saw Tito Vega fuel the fire by throwing tire after tire into the flames.
"I pulled him out and I held him down until the cops arrived," Maye recalled. When asked why he did so, he said, "Obviously he was not supposed to be in there and he was doing something he was not supposed to be doing."
Maye says he's glad he took action.
"I live around here in this community," he said. "It's just something I wanted to do to make sure this guy didn't get away."
"That's the type of community vigilance that we need in order to bring people to justice," said Sgt. Wilson.
Maye says, as he was detaining Vega, he mentioned something about there being someone else in the building. Maye says he tried to go inside and look around, but by that point the flames and the smoke were too much for him.
Maye says he does not know anything about who the man inside may have been or how Vega may have know him.