As firefighters battled three fires early Tuesday morning in the area of Wolters Industrial Park, a Mineral Wells police officer was taken into custody and later charged with three counts of arson.
Patrolman John Clifford Gore, who marked his third anniversary with the Mineral Wells Police Department on Monday, was taken into custody around 2 a.m. Tuesday after he was stopped by an on-duty police officer on Ellis White Road.
Gore was not on duty at the time, Mineral Wells Police Chief Mike McAllester said.
McAllester said Gore was stopped because his silver Ford pickup matched the description of a truck reported speeding in the area of Corrections Corporation of America’s prison minutes after the fires were reported.
The officer who stopped Gore observed a gas can in the bed of the pickup and noticed Gore smelled of gasoline and smoke so he was detained and transported to the police station for questioning, according to McAllester.
Around 4:30 a.m., Gore was arrested and charged with three counts of arson, including one charge of arson with injury because a volunteer firefighter reportedly sustained a minor injury while fighting the fire on Lee Road.
An empty former barracks building on Van Story Road belonging to New-Tronics Antenna Corp. was reported on fire around 1:30 a.m. about the same time as a fire at a building in the 400 block of Lee Road belonging to Evair Associates.
A fire at a fireworks stand at Ellis White Road and Farm-to-Market Road 1821 was called in minutes later.
Police officers who responded began looking for vehicles in the area “because of recent arson fires that had plagued that area,”
“We’re still investigating whether this page person may or may not have been involved with other arson fires,” McAllester said.
McAllester said the motive for the intentionally set fires is also under investigation.
The 26-year-old patrol officer has been with the Mineral Wells Police Department three years as of Monday.
“There’s never been any discipline involving this officer at all,” McAllester said. “Up until this point he’s been a model employee.”
“This case we handled as any other case would be,” McAllester said.
Another suspect has been questioned after the police department received information on a subject believed to be involved in a prior incident, according to McAllester.
An additional arrest is possible, McAllester said.
The Texas Rangers, arson investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Parker County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal’s Office are assisting in the investigation, according to McAllester.
The Mineral Wells Fire Department and volunteers from Mineral Wells, Millsap and Cool-Garner responded to the structure fires.
There was minor damage to the fireworks stand on Ellis White Road.
Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Chief Steve Perdue said the former barracks building on Van Story Road was fully involved when firefighters arrived. It burned to the ground.
Tina Chipps, plant manager at New-Tronics, said the building was empty and had been stripped.
It was the company’s second building burned in a suspected arson since a former barracks building used for storage was destroyed in mid-December in a string of four intentionally set fires across the city.
The fire at the brick building in the 400 block of Lee Road owned by Evair Associates was contained to the office portion, according to Perdue.
Monte Parker, a 19-year veteran of the MWVFD, sustained a minor back injury and was transported by ambulance to Palo Pinto General Hospital. He was later released, according to his wife, Connie Parker.
The building was used for storage. The main business office in the 200 block was not hurt.
Neil Evans said he lost most of the items he hoped to use as exhibits in a flight museum for the area.
For the last 12 years, the building has housed aviation artifacts, including old parts, fixtures and hundreds of large pictures, according to the family.
“You can’t get this stuff,” Neil Evans said.
“We’ve been collecting that stuff for years,” Sharlet Evans, office manager at the family-owned business, described as “the AutoZone for F-16s.”
About 1,000 brand new keyboards and computer mice to be donated to schools in Mineral Wells and Weatherford were also destroyed, according to Neil Evans.
In all, the Evans estimated their loss at between $500,000 and $1 million. They said the building was insured, though the contents were not.
Sharlet Evans said they found out about the fire when Jerry VanNatta with the Mineral Wells Volunteer Fire Department called the office first thing Tuesday morning.
They were making arrangements to have somebody patrol the business during the nighttime hours when they were informed of the arrest.
“I’m shocked, I’ve known John Gore since he was a little boy,” Sharlet Evans said.
A Myspace page purportedly belonging to Gore and last updated on Monday displayed a quote from the fictional Gotham City district attorney Harvey Dent in the movie “Dark Knight” saying “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
The page sports a black background with a picture of orange flames and several pictures of the character The Joker from the same movie.
A 2001 graduate of Mineral Wells High School, Gore was in the Palo Pinto County jail on $95,000 bond as of Tuesday morning.
Staff writer Christin Coyne can be reached at (940) 325-4465, ext. 3428, or firstname.lastname@example.org.