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BREAKING FRI.: Arrests made for arson at Culp Mill, Green Level house

Graham man, three juveniles arrested for arson at Culp Mill, Green Level house      

A Graham man and three teenage boys have been arrested in connection with the fire at the former Culp Mill in Graham on the night of November 12, The Alamance News has confirmed.

The building was declared a total loss by Graham fire chief Tommy Cole after a three-alarm blaze tore through parts of the building that had already been damaged by an even larger fire a year earlier, in October 2022.

The building had been largely vacant, although some portions were allegedly being used for storage.  Meanwhile, the property is in the process of being foreclosed on by county government for unpaid taxes.  [See separate story earlier this week.]

Foreclosure story:

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Nov. 12 fire:

Oct. 2022 fire:

Arrested Wednesday by the Alamance County sheriff’s deputies  was Wayland Heath Phillips, white, male, 22, of 601 Pomeroy Street, Graham. As of Friday late afternoon, he was still in the Alamance County jail, now under a $100,000 bond (reduced from the original amount of $400,000).

Wayland Heath Phillips

Phillips has been charged with two counts each of felony breaking and entering and felony burning of certain buildings involving two separate fires – one at the former Culp textile plant, as well as a house fire in Green Level a night after the Graham mill fire.

A pre-fire photo of the house at 910 Apple Blossom Lane within Green Level where arson is suspected the night after the fire at the former Culp Mill in Graham.

Similar charges are to be filed against three juvenile males – 13, 14, and 15, two white boys and one Hispanic – who were allegedly also involved in both arsons; charges have been filed in connection with the Green Level fire. Two of the juveniles live in Green Level, the other in Burlington.

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The teens have been taken into custody and transferred to state juvenile detention facilities, according to the sheriff’s office.

Charges are pending against the three juveniles for their roles in the Culp Mill fire.


Sheriff solves two arsons while investigating a third

The sheriff’s department involvement began as a result of yet a third fire last Saturday night (November 25), at another vacant mill building near Hopedale, the former Carolina Mill, which is also believed to be the victim of arson.

Sheriff Terry S. Johnson studying reports in connection with the two arson fires his department believes it has solved with the arrests of a Graham man and three teenage boys.

“We thought it was highly suspicious that two old mill buildings would be set on fire within two weeks.”

– Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson

“We thought it was highly suspicious that two old mill buildings would be set on fire within two weeks,” sheriff Terry Johnson said in an interview Friday afternoon.

His detectives began an investigation, along with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), of the Hopedale fire.

Johnson said part of his department’s investigation led to canvassing information from residents near each of the fires.

Johnson observed that the Hopedale mill had no electricity and that there was no storm or lightning on the night of that fire, pretty well ruling out potential natural causes for the fire.

At the same time, he noted that investigators have been unable to search the Hopedale mill – other than by drones flying above – to verify arson because conditions are “too dangerous,” with walls unstable and potentially liable to collapse.


Yet another fire planned?

Sheriff’s deputies noted that at least one of the juvenile boys, a 14-year-old, has also been arrested recently by Burlington police for trespassing on the grounds of the former Western Electric plant in east Burlington.

Was he scoping out the location for another potential fire? Or even preparing to set one?

Johnson said Burlington’s investigation is continuing about the Western Electric trespass.  The Alamance News was unable to reach anyone with the Burlington detective division late Friday afternoon.

Johnson credited his deputies and detectives for their hard work “day and night” to develop leads and facts leading to the arrests in connection with the two arsons.

Johnson is also glad that the arrests may have short-circuited other fires.  “What else might they have done” if not caught and charged?, he asked.

He also noted the irony that his department’s work (on the Hopedale mill fire) had led to solving two other crimes, one of which (the Culp Mill fire, which is within Graham’s city limits) isn’t actually within his primary jurisdiction (i.e., the unincorporated portions of the county).

He said the investigation into the perpetrators of the Hopedale fire is ongoing.

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