Downtown blaze was arson; photos show man sought for questioning
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
The July 2021 fire that destroyed two downtown Darlington businesses and threatened a city block is being called arson, and authorities are distributing surveillance-camera photos of a man “believed to be involved.”
The blaze, which began late on a Friday night, destroyed the Jewelers Bench at 60 Public Square, an antiques shop next door at 62 Public Square and the 1890s brick building that housed both businesses. Firefighters feared it might also destroy or badly damage neighboring business including Edward Jones Co., Darlington Office Supply and the former Wells Fargo building.
A news release this week from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and Crime Stoppers of the Pee Dee flatly calls the incident an arson. SLED has been investigating that possibility for months. The release says the location of the arson was the Jewelers Bench.
Authorities have released photos taken from a surveillance camera behind the building. They show a man wearing gloves and a mask. “Surveillance footage from around the business captured a subject exit a white car and walk up behind the business shortly before the fire started,” the release says.
Officials are asking the public’s help in identifying this man so he can be questioned. (He is never described in the release as a “person of interest” or a “suspect,” only as a “subject” who is “believed to be involved.”
Crime Stoppers of the Pee Dee asks anyone “who can identify the subject or who (has) information regarding this incident” to contact them. Anonymity is guaranteed. A cash reward of up to $1,000 is being offered for any tip leading to the arrest of the subject(s) involved with this case, Crime Stoppers says.
You can submit a tip via cellphone by using the P3 Tips app on your Apple or Android device; via a computer by going to PeeDeesWanted.com; or via regular phone by calling 888-CRIME-SC (888-274-6372).
The news release estimates total losses from the fire at “between $500,000 and $1,000,000.”
No one was hurt in the July 16 blaze. An estimated 40 or more firefighters from several departments, at one point, were involved in fighting the fire.
“We dodged a bullet, yeah,” Darlington Fire Chief Pat Cavanaugh said after the incident. “It was nerve-wracking. … The good Lord was smiling down at us. We were preparing for the worst.”
Cavanaugh declined to comment on SLED’s apparent conclusion that the fire was arson. He said investigation of the incident is in SLED’s hands.