Red Bank arson-homicide case sent to grand jury

Red Bank arson-homicide case sent to grand jury

January 14th, 2014 by Todd South in Local Regional News

Christopher Wehunt is led into the courtroom at Red Bank City Hall for a preliminary hearing on Monday. Wehunt is being charged in connection to a Nov. 28, 2013, fire that resulted in the death of Dewey Rose.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

An investigation into the alleged arson-related death of a 51-year-old Red Bank man has shown at least three areas of an apartment complex showed signs of gasoline used in the fire.

Three clothing items from the man charged in the crime also tested positive for traces of gasoline, according to testimony in a Monday night preliminary hearing.

Red Bank Municipal Court Judge Johnny Houston sent charges of criminal homicide, arson and related charges against Christopher Wehunt, 33, to the grand jury following the hearing.

Prosecutor Boyd Patterson called a city fire investigator, police detective, the wife of the deceased and another resident of the 137 Hedgewood Drive apartment to testify.

While some details varied, the testimony of Amber Wright, 18; Tisha Igou, 35; and Michelle Rose all recounted that Wehunt showed up at the apartment complex, likely drunk and shouting, banging on doors sometime before 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.

At one point Dewey Rose answered Wehunt's shouts and told the former apartment resident not to bother him and his wife, Michelle Rose.

The couple gave Wehunt a blanket.

The shouting had awoken Igou and her daughter, who lived on the first floor of the apartment, beneath the Roses.

At about 4:30 a.m., Wright noticed a strange smell. Igou told her it was probably their propane heater, but Wright looked out the window to see bright orange flames. The mother and daughter fled the apartment; looking up, they saw the rooftop engulfed.

As Igou and Wright left their apartment, the Roses noticed smoke coming into their second-story apartment. Michelle Rose ran to a broken front window covered in plastic and tore away the covering. Dewey Rose ran the opposite direction, toward their bedroom.

Michelle Rose didn't want to jump, but neighbors told her she had to. She leaped from the second-story window, stood up and began coughing up black smoke.

Fire investigators found Dewey Rose's body prone next to the couple's bed with his face in a shirt.

Red Bank Fire Department Capt. Jim Gault told Houston that he'd sampled six spots in the four-apartment building and found gasoline at three locations in on the first floor.

Investigators believe Wehunt may have used the Roses' blanket to start the fire.

Wehunt stood throughout most of the hourlong hearing with his head down, occasionally looking up at his attorney Zak Newman when the lawyer had a question. Wehunt made no statement to the court.

Wehunt is in custody on a $750,000 bond awaiting trial.

Michelle Rose told the Times Free Press that since the fire she is effectively homeless. Igou told Houston that she and her daughter are staying in a motel but within days will likely be in a homeless shelter.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.