published Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Man charged in fatal Red Bank fire set with a blanket

  • photo
    The site of an apartment fire early Thursday morning at 137 Hedgewood Drive which left one person dead in Red Bank, Tenn.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Dewey Rose gave Christopher Wehunt a blanket.

Wehunt was cold. He needed it.

But for reasons that remain unclear, on Thanksgiving morning Wehunt started a fire with the blanket, burning down the quad of apartments where Rose lived. Rose, 51, died in the blaze.

"From what we understand, that's the person who gave him the blanket because he was cold," Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol said Friday.

Wehunt, 33, is being held in the Hamilton County Jail on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated arson, felony reckless endangerment, felony vandalism and two counts of reckless aggravated assault. His bond has been set at $750,000.

The fire started outside, but by the time Red Bank firefighters arrived just after 5 a.m., with regional departments backing them up, the quad apartment house was engulfed in flames.

Firefighters found Rose's body upstairs in one of the units.

"Everything we have is indicating the fire was the cause [of death.] We haven't got anything back from the medical examiner's office," Christol said.

Christol said he does not know what provoked Wehunt to start the fire. He used to live there.

"Rose and Wehunt had a good relationship, but Wehunt pretty much had a bad relationship with everyone else," Christol said. "He's a very volatile person. He had a very contentious relationship with other people in the apartment complex."

That is reflected in Wehunt's arrest record. Hamilton County General Sessions Court records show that since 1999 he has been arrested on 10 charges, ranging from public intoxication to domestic assault. His Facebook page has pictures of his children in recent posts as well as disturbing images of what appear to be decomposing bodies.

Officers had a warrant for Wehunt's arrest a little more than 12 hours after the fire. He was charged based on information investigators obtained from apartment residents and witnesses, the chief said.

"Officers worked a whole lot of hours [Thursday] to bring this to a close as quickly as we could," Christol said.

The residents who made it out left their homes without any belongings.

"All of their belongings were destroyed or significantly damaged," Christol said. "They had very little -- literally they had what was on their back -- when they went out. And some of them went out the window."

The Greater Chattanooga Area Red Cross is assisting the displaced families.

"We are assisting all 17 [people] with different levels of aid. Some needed shelter, some are with family," said Greg Waite, chief executive officer of the local chapter. "We are working with each to determine aid with clothing, food, emotional care, etc."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@times freepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.

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