Police arrest man connected to alleged arson of homes owned by SC governor

Police arrest man connected to alleged arson of homes owned by SC governor
Frank John Wilberding

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Officials with SLED and the Columbia Police Department have arrested a man in connection with the fire that damaged two homes on Greene Street.

Frank John Wilberding, 21, is being charged with two counts of arson-second degree and possession of a controlled substance. CPD, CFD and SLED consulted with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office regarding the charges.

Firefighters were called just before 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Officials said more than 40 crew members worked to put out the fire.

Columbia Fire confirmed two houses were affected by fire Tuesday morning. A portion of Greene Street and other road have been closed. Motorists in the area should seek an alternate route if possible.

WIS has confirmed the properties - 1710 and 1716 Greene Street - are owned by Peggy McMaster, according to tax assessment documents.

The Governor’s Office released the following statement:

“I can confirm that the governor owns both properties. The most important thing is that nobody was injured or hurt in any way and Gov McMaster is extremely grateful for the superior response from Chief Jenkins and the Columbia Fire Department.”

Columbia Police released a photo of a suspect in connection with the fire.

Police later said that the person detained is the person seen in released surveillance images.

Here is what we know about the suspect so far: As of now, police believe Wilberding acted alone, and that he may live in the area. Police are still looking into a motive.

Surveillance photos of Wilberding were released around 9:30 a.m., after they were released, officials say a Crimestoppers tip led to his identity and an arrest a short time later while he was walking near the crime scene.

We asked if he is a student, police were not sure.

At this time, they are also investigating if there was anything in Wilberding’s criminal history that would have led up to the fire, or if he was under the influence of any drugs, or alcohol at the time, but police say Wilberding was in possession of Xanax.

Officials have no indication that the homes were targeted due to them being owned by the Governor.

We spoke with Ariel Whitmire, a USC student who lives in the second home that caught on fire.

“I heard my dog barking and then I went out my room and I saw the neighbor’s house was completely engulfed from my kitchen so I grabbed what I could and I just took off. In that moment you don’t want to leave any of your stuff behind, but I didn’t really have much of a choice the firefighter was like, ‘come on, come on, out, out, out,’” Whitmire said.

The occupants of the homes were able to make it out safely. No injuries were reported. Officials have said 12 people were displaced by the fire, which caused “hundreds of thousands” of dollars worth of damage to the homes.

Copyright 2019 WIS. All rights reserved.