HALEYVILLE - A resident of a burning apartment at Carl Elliott Heights in Haleyville who jumped to safety has been charged with first degree arson and domestic violence first degree/assault after her roommate was seriously injured in the blaze, having to be rescued by firefighters.
Ashley Brooke Hardin, 32, of 218 Carl Elliott Heights, Haleyville, formerly of Arab, was charged based on a warrant obtained by the Alabama Fire Marshal’s Office for arson first degree, noted Lt. Eddie Collins, investigator with the Haleyville Police Department.
The police department obtained a separate warrant for domestic violence first degree/assault, a charge which follows
the guidelines of first degree assault with the domestic violence portion, Collins explained.
“I am going to take the evidence to the grand jury and they can rule whether or not they think it was attempted murder,” Collins pointed out. “I know for sure we have enough to bring a charge of domestic violence first degree due to injuries to the victim.”
After the fire, which occurred early Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, police began receiving several tips that the fire had possibly been intentionally set, Collins stated.
“After speaking with several neighbors and people who knew the two girls, along with Deputy State Fire Marshal Phillip Freeman and Haleyville Fire Marshal Jeff Postell, we developed some information that the fire started in the living room area,” said Collins.
Freeman had determined that although the fire had started in the living room, there was nothing in the living room that had the ability to start a fire, investigators said.
Law enforcement believe the fire started on the couch in the living room on the lower floor of the apartment, according to Collins. The living room and kitchen were located downstairs with bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
“We’re quite sure that, after speaking to the witness, that she (the victim) had her stuff packed on the couch to leave,” he pointed out.
Later in the week, Freeman and Chuck Tidwell, of the state fire marshal’s office, went to UAB Hospital and spoke with the victim, Amanda Stephens, also of 218 Carl Elliott Heights, Haleyville and formerly of Fayette, authorities added. The Alabamian is naming the victim in this case because her identity had already been released by officials for the initial story regarding the fire that appeared in the Dec. 8, edition of the newspaper.
Investigators had earlier not been able to talk with Stephens, who had been on a ventilator, Collins said.
Enough evidence was gathered, leading investigators to meet with Assistant District Attorney CeJe Hearn and warrants were issued for Hardin’s arrest, Collins indicated.
Freeman and Collins had attempted to interview Hardin two days after the fire, but she refused to speak with them, Collins said. Hardin had reportedly left a neighboring apartment, where she was staying after the fire, he added.
After the arrest warrants were obtained, law enforcement put out a bulletin on the National Crime Information Network to be on the lookout for Hardin, who was allegedly driving a black Dodge Durango, Collins said.
“I had looked for her everywhere we knew to look. Officer Austin Lewis, who was off-duty, called me Tuesday afternoon (Dec. 7) and said he saw the vehicle at Whitman’s Gas Station,” Collins added.
Collins and Haleyville Police Officer Jacob Taylor took Hardin into custody at Whitman’s without incident, with Haleyville Police Officer Adam Flanagin transporting her to the Winston County Jail in Double Springs, investigators said.
As of press time Monday, 13, Hardin was incarcerated facing bonds totaling $45,000, according to law enforcement.
Stephens has been moved to a burn unit with rehab at UAB, according to Collins.
*When someone is accused of a crime, it is merely an accusation until or unless the person is found guilty in a court of law.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.