STERLING, Ohio – Body camera video from the Wayne County Sheriff’s office shows flames shooting from a Sterling home and the racist graffiti nearby that prompted the arson to be investigated as a possible hate crime.
No suspects have been named in the fire, which occurred around 12:40 a.m. Wednesday at a home on Spruce Street.
Body camera video shows homeowners Brad and Angela Frase, an interracial couple, telling a deputy they were not there at the time and staying in a hotel provided by insurance after a previous, accidental fire on July 3.
Angela Frase said a neighbor called to alert them their house was burning.
“What exploded? Our neighbor called and said he thought lightning hit it,” Angela said.
Investigators were looking into whether the arson was a hate crime because of swastikas and racial slurs spray painted on the home’s garage and a neighbor’s truck and garage.
“This fire's been set, somebody started this,” Angela told a deputy. “For their vehicles to be painted and our house to blow up, come on.”
Hours before the explosion, on Tuesday, Columbia Gas crews were at the house to turn off gas and remove a gas meter after a strong odor of natural gas inside was reported. Investigators said electricity had been previously shut off to the home, but a stove burner was turned on, filling the home with natural gas noticed by contractors.
Body camera video showed a deputy who responded to that incident examining the house and finding no signs of forced entry.
He asked Angela Frase if she had experienced any racial problems.
“No, I’ve never had any,” she told him. “I've never had a problem, but the way things are right now, you never know. You never know.”
“I just want to make sure it's not something like that because that opens up a whole other ball game, that's federal,” the deputy told her.
week prior, on July 30, the couple reported a break-in through a back-door window. Body camera video showed a toilet and appliances, including televisions, had been smashed. A sink faucet was also twisted. However, the Frases said nothing was stolen, including guns that were in the home at the time.
“I assume we have to make another claim now. This insurance company's going to love us,” Brad Frase said when asked by the deputy if they had insurance.
Wayne County Sheriff’s office Captain Doug Hunter said there had not been previous reports of racial incidents.
“This is a quiet area, a rural, small town,” he said.
Hunter said investigators, including the FBI, were conducting interviews and following leads to determine who set the fire and why.
“Right now, everybody is so-called on the table as far as being a potential suspect in this fire,” he said.
He said the State Fire Marshal's office was still investigating what caused the fire and what sort of accelerate may have been used that led to the explosion.
A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and successful prosecution.