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Sheriff credits teamwork with arson arrest

By Walter Geiger Just days into his administration, Lamar County sheriff Brad White was crediting cooperation and good police work on the part of his staff for the arrest of a man investigators think is a serial arsonist who may have been setting fires in empty, foreclosed upon and marketed homes in Lamar and surrounding counties since 2007. Travis Leroy Ball, 46, of 156 Carter Circle in Warner Robins was arrested at 12:15 a.m. January 8 as he allegedly fled into Lamar County after setting two fires in Upson County. The Upson fires ignited homes on Pickard Road and off Jeff Davis Road. Upson authorities notified Lamar investigator Mark Barry who, in turn, passed the information to Sgt. Lamar Bunn who alerted his on-duty patrol deputies Deputies Adam Rowell, Wayman Hinson and Jonathan Hamrick responded, covering Piedmont and Yatesville roads and Highway 36. Hamrick had just turned around at T.J. Outfitters on Hwy. 36 when a white Toyota Corolla topped the hill traveling toward Barnesville. It was without a tag light, missing a bumper and sporting a cracked windshield. Hamrick initiated a stop and Ball, the only occupant of the vehicle, was in the driver’s seat. ’As soon as he rolled the window down, I could smell gas and smoke,’ Hamrick said. Ball had been on the department’s watch list for four days. He had visited a local convenience store on the night of two of the previous fires. A clerk at the store alerted authorities Ball was in the store acting strangely and was driving a car similar to one seen at several fire scenes. Hamrick got Ball out of the car and patted him down. He had a lighter in his pocket and a pair of brown work gloves in his back pocket. The gloves smelled like gas. Hamrick put them back in Ball’s pocket. Ball was taken into custody, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. Back at the jail, the gloves were missing. ’While handcuffed, he somehow got the gloves out of his pocket, put them on the floor and used his legs to cram them up under my seat,’ Hamrick said. Ball was placed on an investigative hold. In the trunk of his vehicle, deputies found two, one-gallon antifreeze containers that reeked of gasoline. Ball claimed he had been watching wrestling with a friend in Thomaston and was on his way home to Warner Robins. When asked why he was taking a circuitous route through Barnesville, he told deputies he always went home that way because he knew people here and liked to stop at a local convenience store and talk to one of his former coaches. Ball ran several ads in The Herald-Gazette in 2011 trying to organize a reunion of the LCCHS Class of 1985. Ball, who apparently attended LCCHS through the 10th grade, was later charged with one count of arson. ’We tied him to the fire at the Poore home on Hwy. 41 South by a real estate book in the car with homes in it circled,’ sheriff White said. More charges are pending. On his booking data, Ball listed his employer as the Federal Civil Service. He worked as a hydraulics mechanic at Robins AFB, according to sheriff White. At a first appearance hearing in magistrate court January 8, Judge William Thomas advised Ball of his right to a preindictment bond hearing. Ball appeared with his attorney Eric Hearn. Judge Thomas could not set bond because it had previously been denied by superior court Judge Bill Fears. On two occasions during the hearing Ball turned to confer with Hearn who urged him to keep quiet. Ball also faces charges in Upson County. ‘This arrest was all about teamwork and communication. Our guys did a jam up job of getting to the right place at the right time and catching him,’ sheriff White concluded.

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