Man arrested at Lakeland hospital after house fire

Cause of the blaze is under investigation by the Haleyville Fire Marshal.

HALEYVILLE - A man found in a ditch across County Road 30 from a burning house late Wednesday night, May 9, was later charged with burglary, after he was found hiding in the back seat of a nurse’s vehicle at Lakeland Community Hospital, where he was transported.

James Wayne Gilbert, 48, of Haleyville, faces charges of burglary second degree and was transferred from the hospital to the Winston County Jail, Double Springs, noted Haleyville Police Chief Kyle Reogas. After startling the nurse, who had come to her vehicle to find Gilbert in the back seat, he got out of the vehicle and fled to an area behind the air conditioning unit at the hospital, where he was located by police, Reogas indicated. Earlier in the evening, a neighbor of Gilbert’s on CR 30 reported seeing the fire, with a family member heading over to provide assistance.

“I was sitting here watching TV and I kept seeing red,” the neighbor said. “I pulled the curtains back and said, Oh my G--, the house is on fire.” Contrary to some reports, the neighbor did not hear an explosion but did hear shot gun shells going off, possibly from a gun or guns inside the burning house. The neighbor also saw Gilbert across the road. “That man was laying in the ditch on the right hand side of the road,” the neighbor said. A family member then went over to provide any assistance to Gilbert. Gilbert was transported from the scene by Regional Paramedical Service ambulance to Lakeland hospital, Baccus said.

The Haleyville Fire Department was called out to a structure fire at 3334 CR 30, around 10:49 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, responding to the scene within about five minutes, noted Haleyville Acting Fire Chief Terrell Baccus.

“Upon arrival, we found a structure fire fully involved,” Baccus stated. “The fire had already extended through the roof and out the front of the building.” Firefighters found Gilbert across the road, confirming he was transported by RPS to Lakeland, Baccus said. The fire department rolled Pumper 2, pumper 3 brought to the station, tanker 5 and rescue 1, according to Baccus, noting that at least 13,000 gallons of water were applied in an exterior attack to bring the blaze under control.

“A structure with a full basement under it and (the house) was already falling in. We couldn’t send anyone in,” said Baccus. “Flames were coming through the roof.”

The closest fire hydrant was 300 to 400 yard away, so firefighters used the water capacity of their trucks, he added. After about two hours, the blaze was brought under control, according to Baccus. Gilbert was examined at the Lakeland emergency room then left on foot, Chief Reogas said.

“The only involvement at this time the police department has is the association with the guy in the ditch who was transported to Lakeland and the arrest that was made at Lakeland ER,” Reogas said. The police department received the call of a nurse going to her vehicle and finding a person in her back seat, noted Reogas, adding no forced entry had reportedly been made to the vehicle. The nurse contacted authorities, with Haleyville Police responding to the scene and determining it was the same individual that was in the ditch, Chief Reogas added.

“We found him in the ditch. How he got there, we had no idea,” Baccus stated. “He was sitting up at the edge of the road across the road.” The fire department did not notice any burns on Gilbert, according to Baccus. After the blaze was extinguished, all that remained of the brick dwelling on CR 40 was a gutted shell, with the entire right section of the home destroyed. The neighbor confirmed no power was connected at the residence, with those living there relying on candles. However, exact cause of the blaze has yet to be determined, according to Baccus.

*When a defendant is charged with a crime, the charge is merely an accusation until or unless proven guilty in a court of law.

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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