A man who claims he was lost after his vehicle broke down was taken into custody after he was reported to have been responsible for starting a fire on the side of Highway 100 near Wiley Road on Sunday morning.
Polk County Police reported that Eric Kyle Hooper, 27, of 330 Co. Rd. 475 in Centre, Alabama, was taken into custody around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 28 after he was reported by an area resident and former Georgia State Patrol Captain to be pacing up and down Highway 100 in an unusual manner.
When an officer arrived on the scene, he found that a fire had started and the man was walking away from it quickly, and was dressed in all black, wearing a steering wheel cover around his neck and carrying a folded-up sweatshirt. The officer took Hooper into custody, held him in place on the patrol car hood.
“He was intrigued by the smoke that was coming from the fire behind him,” the officer reported.
Hooper initially told police that he was “walking toward Cedartown prior to sitting down and praying prior to throwing down two (lit) cigarettes,” according to the report.
The officer searched Hooper after he asked for consent to do so and discovered that he was carrying a toboggan with several unexplained items including a pair of black gloves, a black face mask, a small orange butane lighter, three condoms, a tiny clear glass mason jar and a small purple cloth sack with five .40 caliber pistol rounds. Police also found a pocket knife.
The blaze was put out while police were searching Hooper by a volunteer firefighter who arrived on the scene before any fire trucks. Officers noted the burned area measured 137 feet long by 19 feet wide and ran parallel with the east side of Highway 100. The retired GSP Captain who called in the fire told police on the scene when he pulled back up that he noticed Hooper walking away from the fire when it was waist high and about the size of a car hood.
“He slowed down as he passed and Mr. Hooper’s behavior was very suspicious,” the report stated. “As if he himself did not notice the fire behind him.”
Hooper told police that he had indeed noticed the fire behind him. After being read Miranda rights, Hooper offered to explain what happened. He told officers his car broke down on Culp Lake Road – which runs between Esom Hill and Highway 100 – during the night and he had been forced to walk. Hooper got lost, but somehow made it to Highway 100 and was walking south toward Tallapoosa before “an unknown female advised him Cedartown was in the other direction.”
The report stated that Hooper told officers he continued walking until he arrived to where they were around Wiley Road, where he sat down in the grass near the highway and began to pray. Another driver stopped, Hooper said, but didn’t offer a ride and instead gave him two cigarettes.
He said he smoked them, then tossed them still lit in the grass and began to walk away, the report stated.
“Mr. Hooper stated he did not attempt to extinguish the fire but may have accidentally set it by not putting his cigarettes out,” the report stated.
Police discovered after checking his information in the Georgia Crime Information Center system that officers utilize to check suspect information that Hooper had previously been a resident of Cedartown and had a Georgia driver’s license. Hooper told police that it was six year prior when he lived her before.
He was charged with a single count of misdemeanor burning of woodlands and was taken to the Polk County Jail. Hooper remained in custody on the charge with a $2,500 bond.