LUCEDALE, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi firefighter with a criminal history that includes an arson conviction in Arkansas is now charged with setting seven fires and molesting an 11-year-old child.
Joshua Daniel Easter, a 31-year-old Lucedale, Miss., resident, is charged with setting five house fires in Mississippi and two in the woods, all since October.
Emergency Management Coordinator Lorraine Howell told The Hattiesburg American that Easter has been a George County firefighter for less than six months.
By the time he was charged with arson this week, Easter already was in the George County Regional Correctional Facility, charged with touching a child for lustful purposes.
He was arrested on that charge Monday after the mother of an 11-year-old family member filed a complaint, according to Lucedale Police Department Detective Robert Riendeau.
It wasn't immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
Easter's criminal record includes convictions for a 1997 arson, writing hot checks in 2002 and commercial burglary in 2001.
George County fire investigators were alerted to arson as a possible cause of the recent fires because of evidence uncovered at the scenes, according to Sheriff Tony Keel.
Keel wouldn't describe that evidence.
The county fire investigators contacted the state fire marshal's office for assistance. Two of the house fires in Mississippi involved federally subsidized housing, so federal agents also were called to assist with the case.
If convicted on the arson charges, Easter could face two years in prison on each of the woods fires and up to 20 years in prison on each of the house fires. He could face an additional 20 years in prison on the sex charge if convicted.
Keel said that Easter's actions put the public, fellow firefighters and law enforcement personnel in harm's way.
"Arson affects everyone, especially people who pay for fire insurance protection. The damage caused by these fires are ultimately paid by other homeowners," he said.