UPDATE 2 arrested; Church burns
Two men - the last ones in the former Laurel Hill Baptist Church before it burned - have been arrested and charged in connection with the fire. They have been charged with 1st degree arson and criminal conspiracy.
The Laurens County Sheriff's Office identified the suspects as Timothy Pyle, 34, and Patrick Sullivan, 31. More arrests are possible, Sheriff Ricky Chastain said today.
Johnson Detention Center records list both men as being from Laurens, but do not list a street address for either man.
A report said Sullivan was arrested and charged Saturday, and Pyle was arrested Sunday. They were denied bond today. Both worked for the company hired to demolish the building, and were reported to be the last people in the building before it burned Saturday afternoon.
The former Laurel Hill Baptist Church was destroyed by fire today.
Fire crews including two aerial trucks, one supplied by water shuttles, one supplied by a fire hydrant, were on the scene in Waterloo. The current church building several yards away was not damaged.
No word yet on fire cause.
Fire officials advised the public to use caution on 221, Laurel Hill Road and Riverforks Road west of Laurens as fire trucks were shuttling water along the roadway. The fire call came in at 3:37 pm as a fully involved church fire, and Laurens County Fire Service Director Greg Lindley said at 6 pm, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency and State Law Enforcement Division was on-site. This is routine in cases of church fires.
"No one was inside," Lindley said. "A wall fell and injured a firefighter - he's OK."
The being-demolished church building is a few yards from the current Laurel Hill Baptist Church, which was not damaged. Laurel Hill Baptist was the site of last January's Freedom Fund Dinner for the Laurens County NAACP, and the church has hosted remembrance services for Hospice of Laurens County.
"Some of the big structural parts were not here," Lindley said of the old church building that burned. There were live electrical wires around the building, but no power to the building. Lindley said, "We got lucky" because there was no wind and the fire did not spread to nearby woods. The burned building a few feet from a railroad track.
Laurel Hill Baptist Church is in western Laurens County, in Waterloo, on Hwy 221 South. A witness said she and her husband were traveling on Riverfork Road, as she looked to the left and saw the former church on fire. "It was unnerving," she said, "to think that somebody could have been in there (no one was)." Some people already were gathered around the burning church, and some were on their cellphones calling 911. "The smoke on the back corner was white, then it got thicker and blacker," the witness said. "(Her thought was) This is awful."
Lindley said fire response was provided by Waterloo, Cross Hill, Mountville, Ekom, Western Laurens, Northwestern and Coronaca (aerials), Ware Shoals, Laurens County Fire Department and Fire Service, and Laurens County Emergency Management Agency and Emergency Medical Service.