Homeless man accused of setting tent on fire while two people slept inside

Richard Erwin
photo Richard Erwin, 40, was arrested on a charge of aggravated arson on Feb. 13, 2016. Contributed photo

A homeless man was arrested Friday after Chattanooga police say he doused a tent in kerosene and lit it on fire while two people were sleeping inside.

The man and woman inside the tent told police they were sleeping at 2200 Chestnut St. just before 1 a.m. Friday when the man woke up and realized the tent was burning. He rushed to get out of the tent and then saw Richard Erwin, 40, pouring kerosene on the tent.

Erwin poured the kerosene on the man as well, and tried to light matches and throw them on the man, the man and woman told police.

Both the man and woman were able to get out of the tent and away from Erwin. They called police and EMS and were checked out at Erlanger for smoke inhalation, according to Erwin's affidavit.

The man smelled like kerosene when he was interviewed by police, officers noted.

Police visited the homeless camp and found Erwin walking away from it. He appeared intoxicated, officers wrote in their report.

Erwin denied setting anything on fire but could not tell police what had happened that night.

Investigators found a burned cot, a burned tent and two cans of fuel that had been damaged by fire, according to Erwin's affidavit. Police also found a kerosene heater inside Erwin's tent.

Erwin was charged with aggravated arson and booked into the Hamilton County Jail on a $250,000 bond.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or [email protected] with tips or story ideas.