An Elkridge volunteer firefighter has been charged with deliberately burning three vans, a flatbed truck and a school bus Sunday, just four days after he joined the fire department.
Bobby Lee Carmichael, 22, of the 6300 block of Beechfield Avenue, was charged Sunday with five counts of malicious burning and resigned Monday from his volunteer firefighter's post pending an investigation by the state Fire Marshal's office, county fire officials said.
Investigators say all of the vehicles, which were parked in a lot at Elkridge's Route 100 Industrial Park, had been doused with gasoline and set afire shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday. Total damage is estimated at $21,000.
State officials say the investigation remains open on both Carmichael and approximately six unsolved arson cases that have occurred in the Elkridge area this summer. Each of the other six cases involved office or supply trailers at construction sites.
Officials are continuing to investigate those incidents, but "it's too premature to say whether they're related or not," said Robert Thomas, a spokesman for the state Fire Marshal's office.
Investigators suggest they may have discovered a motive for Sunday's fires, but they would not elaborate. However, Thomas said Carmichael had never worked at the industrial park and appeared to hold no grudges against the workers or drivers.
Carmichael, who started a basic county firefighter's course on Sept. 5, was arrested after a county police officer spotted a car with its lights out driving from the parking lot at a high speed at 5:20 a.m. Sunday, said police spokesman Gary L. Gardner.
After a brief chase, the car was pulled over on nearby Interstate 95.
During questioning, the officer "smelled a strong aroma of gasoline" and noticed a five-gallon gasoline canister on the front seat, Gardner said.
The officer arrested Carmichael after hearing a radio call that several vehicles were on fire back in the parking lot where the chase began, a police report said.
As a volunteer member of the county fire department, Carmichael was not permitted on emergency medical or fire calls, said Donald R. Howell, a department spokesman.
"From our point of view, it's obviously a surprise," said Howell, who indicated that Carmichael passed a screening exam before enrolling in the firefighting course. Carmichael has no previous arrests for arson or fire-related crime, state officials said.
Carmichael, who is employed at an area plumbing firm, was in the process of completing an 80- to 100-hour course that would have allowed him to participate in emergency operations, Howell said.
Carmichael is being held on $35,000 bond at the Howard County Detention Center.
Howell said no plans are in the works for tightening screening procedures for new recruits.
"The nature of our job is that it may attract people that like to see the fires, and possibly even start the fires," Howell said. "We feel that we try to screen them out pretty well."
According to county fire records, four suspicious motor vehicle fires have been reported in the U.S. 1 corridor since January. Approximately six construction trailer fires were set this summer. None of the incidents involved injuries.