Hardeeville Man Charged with Arson in Domestic Dispute

Richard Nelson
Richard Nelson

The following was released by the City of Hardeeville, South Carolina:

A Hardeeville man was arrested Sunday after he allegedly burned down the mobile home he shared with his girlfriend. Hardeeville Police charged Richard Nelson, 47, with second-degree arson. The residence the couple rented at 1 Furman Street was a total loss, according to Hardeeville Fire/Rescue.

Nelson's girlfriend, Michelle Bley, told police that she and Nelson had gotten into an argument Sunday evening, but she could not recall what the argument was about. Bley said that Nelson got very upset and went outside.

Bley stated that Nelson came back inside with gasoline and said he was going to burn down the house. She said Nelson poured gasoline on a pile of clothes on the kitchen floor and then set the clothes on fire.

According to Bley, Nelson "freaked out" and tried unsuccessfully to put out the fire. Nelson and Bley got out of the house as the fire spread quickly, and Bley went to a neighbor's house to call 911.

Several Hardeeville firefighters responded to the scene after getting the call at 8:03 p.m. When they arrived the flames were through the roof, approximately 30 feet in the air, and the fire was vented through all the windows of the house.

Firefighters got the fire under control, preventing it from spreading to a house next door.

Hardeeville Police said that, when they questioned Nelson, he had a strong smell of gasoline. Also, the hair on his head and arms was singed, and he appeared to have blisters on his forehead.

Nelson said he did not know how the fire started and suggested that a cigarette might have caught the pile of clothes on fire. He admitted saying that he would burn down the house, but said he was just joking. He also acknowledged that he drank several beers before the fire started.

According to police, Nelson became agitated when he was asked if he used an accelerant to start the fire. He became increasingly irate, yelling profanities at officers and threatening to cause them bodily harm.

Nelson was charged with public disorderly conduct and was placed in the back of a patrol car. He was then charged with destruction of municipal property after he kicked the interior left back door of the patrol car, bending the frame.

Nelson was restrained by officers and placed in ankle shackles. The officers said Nelson repeatedly told them to shoot him and that, if they did not shoot him, the officers would regret it. Nelson was taken to the Jasper County Detention Center.

Bley initially denied having any knowledge of how the fire started. However, after Nelson was taken into custody, she told police she wanted to talk to them again. In that second interview, she explained how Nelson started the fire.

Investigators from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) came to Hardeeville Monday morning to investigate the scene.