Independence Day was a good day for 66-year-old Rickey J. Denney.
On the day of our nation’s 245th anniversary, which was Sunday, July 4, Denney told Seymour police officer Aubrey Hutson that he was baptized.
But the next day, last Monday, July 5, wasn’t so good.
That afternoon, Denney, a longtime Seymour resident, was arrested after admitting to starting a hay fire on property owned by the Seymour First Baptist Church. Once he arrived at the Webster County Jail in Marshfield, additional drug charges followed as Hutson discovered marijuana, methamphetamine and a prescription federal Schedule III narcotic pill in his pockets.
“Once confronted with the evidence, (Denney) didn’t deny what he had done,” Hutson said.
The case came to the attention of the Seymour Police Department around 3 p.m. on July 5 when dispatch called Hutson with a report of “a man setting a fire and fleeing the area” near the aforementioned church, which is located on Highway BB (Mack Road) at the city’s southwest corner.
Hutson spoke with a witness who said “a white male wearing a white shirt and blue jeans” set some hay on fire, which spread into the field that had just been cut.
“The field had loose hay bedding the whole field,” his report said, adding that the witness said the man who started the fire “left the area quickly and turned east on Park Street.”
The witness said they didn’t recognize the man or know where he went after turning on Park Street.
Soon after the report, Seymour Fire Chief Shawn Crump arrived at the scene, as did his father, Bob Crump, who is the city’s emergency-management director. Ultimately, the fire was extinguished.
“We got there just in time,” Bob Crump said in an interview late last week. “Had we got there 10 minutes later, the entire field would’ve been on fire, and it would’ve easily spread to the residential area surrounding the field.
“This could’ve been very, very bad.”
Hutson then spoke to church officials, who provided him access to the church’s security-camera footage.
In this footage, Hutson said he was clearly “able to view a male start the fire.”
His report continued, “In the video, a white male wearing the above-described attire leans over and appears to light the hay on fire. He then quickly walked away and turns back to see the fire spreading. The male didn’t seem concerned about what he had just done and fl ed the area.”
Hutson also made it clear that he knew who started the fire.
“It was very clear to me,” Hutson said in an interview on Thursday. “It was Rick Denney.”
His report noted that Denney lived only 100 yards from where the fire was started and that it appeared he was headed to his home when he exited the frame of the video footage.
Next up for Hutson was a visit to Denney’s home on South Peightel Street.
When he exited the home, Denney was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, just as the witness had described.
Hutson confronted Denney about what he was doing at 3 p.m. that afternoon.
Initially, he told Hutson that he had “noticed the fire,” but Denney said he didn’t start it. When Hutson told Denney that he had video footage of him starting the fire, Denney then admitted to the crime.
“When I asked why he started the fire, Rickey stated, ‘I was just f***ing around.’ Rickey then was informed he was now under arrest for knowingly burning property and was transported to the Webster County Jail,” Hutson’s report said.
Hutson said on Thursday that Denney didn’t show any remorse in starting the fire.
“However, I do feel that (Denney) was under the influence of drugs at the time of his arrest,” he said.
Once at the county jail, Hutson had Denney remove all of the items from his pockets to place into his property bag.
“When he was removing the items, he pulled out a bag containing marijuana,” Hutson’s report said. “I then conducted a search of the rest of his person. I located the following items — inside a cigarette box was a clear baggie containing a crystalline substance that field tested positive for methamphetamine, inside a Camel Snus can and a single white pill identified to be Buprenorphine, a Schedule III narcotic, and a glass meth pipe. I seized those items, along with (Denney’s) lighter, for evidence.”
Hutson said the lighter was a “Dale Jr.” lighter that featured the NASCAR driver.
Four charges are sought against Denney, per Hutson’s report. One is for knowingly burning or exploding, while the other three are drug charges. Three of the sought charges are for felonies.
“Starting the fire isn’t arson ... at least it’s not in how I read the law,” Hutson noted. “It’s not arson because (Denney) didn’t start a fire to a building or an inhabitable structure, and that criteria has to be met to be arson.”
Denney was booked into the Webster County Jail on a 24-hour hold on the late afternoon of July 5.