Authorities Say Saturday Fire on Daniels Bridge Road is 'Suspicious in Origin'
The state Fire Marshal's Office is working with the Oconee County Fire Department and Oconee County Sheriff's deputies on the investigation.
Authorities are calling the origin of the fire that gutted the house at 1160 Daniels Bridge Road Saturday morning suspicious.
"The nature of the fire and the location of the fire led both the firefighters and our investigators to believe that it's suspicious in nature," Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said Tuesday.
Berry said he is unable to release more details at this time other than to say no one has yet been identified as a suspect of any crime.
"There's a lot of crime lab stuff that has to be done; there's a lot of interviews that have to be done," Berry said. "We've got to put together diagram and photos."
When firefighters arrived around 6:30 a.m., no one was home. Fire Chief Bruce Thaxton said the state Fire Marshal's Office was called to investigate.
The home and its owner have a history with authorities.
On Christmas Day in 2006, fire that originated in the bedroom caused extensive structural damage throughout the house, Thaxton told the Athens Banner-Herald at the time. Thaxton said Tuesday the state Fire Marshal determined that blaze was caused by cigarette smoking in bed.
Thaxton identified the homeowner as Jeffrey Allen Bishop.
In 2008, Oconee County Sheriff's deputies raided Bishop's home and found what they described to the Athens Banner-Herald as a small-scale meth lab for personal use. Bishop, who is now 54, was charged with manufacturing methamphetamine. According to a Georgia database, Bishop was paroled in April 2011 after having been convicted and jailed for possession.
On May 24, 2012 around 2:30 p.m., two days prior to Saturday's fire, a sexual battery reportedly occurred at the residence. Deputies reported the house was in disarray "consistent with a physical altercation" and noticed injuries on the adult female victim's arms.
Bishop, who also had injuries to his arms, accused the victim of having stolen the following items: two motorcycles, four chainsaws, a blower, gold-plated collectible tools, two "air-soft" guns and $1,027 cash. The report lists all the items recovered except for the cash. Deputies advised him of the warrant process for theft.
Later at the hospital, the victim told deputies she had been sleeping and was awakened to inappropriate touching in her private areas, then choked and struck in the head with a golf club, according to the report. Warrants were obtained in Bishop's name for battery and sexual battery.
Sheriff Berry said Bishop is currently hospitalized for a matter unrelated to the incidents.
"We know where he is," Berry said. "We have arrangements to get him, so we're just going to pick him up."
Editor's note: Some details of the alleged battery have been removed from the original version to protect the victim.