New Year’s Eve fire claims life of 73-year-old local resident
Lincoln County Sheriff’s detectives are awaiting the results of an autopsy before making a final determination if a 73-year-old man who died in a New Year’s Eve fire was the victim of an accident or a homicide.
Richard Dick “Junebug” Helms Jr. died when a blaze swept through his mobile home at 5702 Clintwood Drive. Firefighters were dispatched to the scene before midnight, and detectives were summoned shortly thereafter.
Barbara Smitt, described as the resident’s girlfriend, told officers that the fire began in the kitchen area. A neighbor, Marlene Stevens, said that Smitt came running to her camper saying that the trailer was on fire.
“She (Smitt) was very intoxicated,” said detective Sally Dellinger. Smitt told Dellinger she had some candles burning in the living room, and said that Helms was in bed when the fire broke out. She told Dellinger that they threw water on the fire in an attempt to put it out, but it was already getting out of control.
Smitt left the mobile home, but told detectives that Helms said he had to retrieve some pictures before he could leave.
“She was screaming for him to get out, but it was blazing so high she couldn’t get him,” said detective Dellinger.
Firefighters reportedly found his body in a recliner, according to a report in the Gaston Gazette, but that is unconfirmed. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Fire Marshal’s Office.
Although no foul play is suspected, deputies have responded to numerous incidents at the residence in recent years, and the victim’s son committed suicide there when he hanged himself on the back porch. As recently as last August, a report of vandalism was reported there, and last August, Jeff King reported that he was the victim of arson at the location.
Helms was arrested in August 2006 and charged with possession of a firearm by felon, possession of Schedule IV controlled substance and resisting, obstructing and delaying an officer. He had numerous other arrests for DWI and felony assault with a deadly weapon.