Friday, June 20, 2014

Arson Suspected in Two Bridgeport Tavern Fires 1974

Bridgeport leader June 20, 1974  

Arson is suspected in two Bridgeport fires that gutted the Hilltop Tavern, 459 W. State Street, and severely damaged the Corner Tavern, 101 E. State Street early Tuesday morning, according to Bridgeport Fire Protection Chief Roy Oney.

"Evidence was found to support this conclusion by representatives of the State Fire Marshal's office at the Corner Tavern but none so far at the Hilltop," Oney said. He added there appeared to be a smell of kerosene or cleaning fluid at the Corner Tavern.

The fires, approximately 1/4 mile apart, were first discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sholders, of 905 Church St. Mrs. Sholders who was en route to work at the Methodist Village at approximately 4 AM, spotted the blaze at the Hilltop Tavern. She returned home and she and her husband contacted the fire department.  Mr. Sholders returned to the scene with his wife and then turned the corner at State and Judy and discovered the second fire. They immediately went to the fire station and informed firemen of the second blaze. The Sholders then went to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Zeb Akers, owners of the Corner Tavern, and told them of the fire.

Altogether seven pieces of equipment and three fire departments fought the fires, four from Bridgeport, two from Lawrenceville and one from Sumner. Bridgeport firemen were at the scene most of the day keeping spectators away and to be available should the fire break out again.

After the fires were discovered City Police Chief Rex Lawson asked the Sumner police to question T.D. Trainer, 30, of Sumner, about the fires. Trainer was not at home, but a short time later Trainer and Danny Halluin, 24, of Bridgeport, were spotted in Bridgeport. Lawson gave chase which eventually evolved Sumner, Lawrenceville, and  Wabash County police departments and the Illinois State Police unit for an hour and 20 min.  Trainer and Halluin were apprehended when they turned off onto a dead end lane about 5 miles southwest of Bridgeport near the old Feasant Dairy Farm. Their car became stuck in the mud after traveling several yards in high weeds. Bridgeport and Sumner police apprehended the two who were then arrested and taken into custody and charged on a variety of counts, one in connection with a burglary at the Corner Tavern.

Sumner police charged Trainer with operating a vehicle without a driver’s license and  both with attempting to elude a police officer. Bridgeport police charged both with burglary at the Corner Tavern and theft of less than $150. Lawson said the car in which the two were riding contained 33 eight-track tapes allegedly belonging to Rackers, Inc. which were on display in the Corner Tavern.

As of Wednesday morning neither Trainer nor Halluin had been charged with arson, nor was evidence, if any, made publicly available that they were connected with the alleged arson. Deputy Fire Marshal Dale Leigh was scheduled to meet with Chief Lawson early Wednesday morning. The Fire Marshal's office had sealed off the building early Tuesday morning and returned later in the day to go through  the contents. Leigh said he would make all information known to local authorities. Clothing of Trainer and Halluin was to be inspected to see if it contained any flammable material.

Later a charge of disorderly conduct was filed against Norman Snapp, Hilltop Owner Tuesday after an alleged incident about 5 AM that morning at the Sam Halluin residence.

There were no injuries reported even though the Hilltop was gutted in the bar area and the Corner was severely damaged. Estimate of damage was not immediately known although it was expected to run well into the thousands of dollars. Firemen were hampered at the Hilltop by lack of fire hydrants.

Akers had no idea whether he would rebuild. The Corner Tavern was in his wife's name. It had been closed for three days because of the accidental death of Mrs. Akers’ son, whose funeral was Tuesday afternoon. Snapp said he didn't know whether he would rebuild and added it would depend a great deal on the cost.

While all this was occurring, Mrs. Robert Walsh of Gray St, Bridgeport had to be rushed to the Lawrence County Hospital for treatment after being involved in a collision at the Hilltop tavern with Harve Hensley, St Francisville policeman.  According to Rex Lawson, Police chief, Hensley was leaving the scene on another call and backed into the path of Mrs. Walsh.  A fire truck blocked Hensley’s vision.  The call turned out to be a hoax.