Beckley Police have arrested one suspect for providing false information to authorities investigating the Jan. 2 fire that destroyed two buildings in Uptown, while another man, accused of the same crime, remains at large.
Earnest “Ernie” Nichols, 52, of Beckley was arrested Thursday, Detective Frank Priddy explained.
As Priddy and Beckley Fire Capt. Kevin Price were at the fire scene, trying to determine what the situation was, Priddy said Nichols approached him and said, “I can tell you what happened, who did it and how it happened.”
Nichols gave a statement involving other people, Priddy said. After several days of investigation, police discovered these statements were not true because what the individuals were claiming just wasn’t possible, he said.
Days of manpower by Beckley Police and the fire department, along with other resources, were wasted while “we were chasing our tails,” Priddy said.
He said through investigation, it was proved that Nichols was nowhere near the fire when it transpired.
“It was just a blatant lie,” Priddy said.
“He may be seeking attention, trying to get his 15 minutes of fame, or trying to get another person in trouble,” Priddy said of the possible motives.
But Nichols is not the only one who came forth, telling police they knew what happened and who was to blame.
Bland Jackson Lester Jr., a 40-year-old from Beckley, is also accused of providing false statements.
Priddy said the two men’s tales were similar; however, they each named a different suspect.
An arrest warrant has also been issued for Lester, who remains at large.
Priddy describes Lester as a black male who stands at 6-feet-1-inches tall and weighs 180 pounds, Priddy said. Lester wears a Cleveland Browns sweatshirt and a Carhartt jacket.
Both men are homeless and frequent the Uptown area and know each another, Priddy added. He said Lester also has ties to Bluefield.
Priddy said Nichols was arraigned before Magistrate Steve Massie Thursday and was remanded to Southern Regional Jail where he posted $2,500 bond and was released.
The investigation continues as police seek other individuals of interest, Priddy confirmed, adding the fire still could be arson.
Anyone with any information regarding the fire is asked to call Beckley Police at 304-256-1708 or Crime Stoppers at 304-255-7867.
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