Investigators not saying if child’s fiery death intentional

  • Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dave Coombs


Did the three people charged with setting fire to an Andrews mobile home in March know 12-year-old Dave Coombs was inside at the time?

That is a question authorities either do not know the answer to or do not want to answer at this point in the investigation.

The fire occurred March 29 at a mobile home at 10 James Drive in Andrews.

Coombs was in the mobile home alone when the fire began, according to the Georgetown County Deputy Coroner's Office.

Last week, Coombs' mother, Marissa Cohen, 39, and two others – James Miller, 40, of 6 Soapberry Place and Randy Collins, 43, of 16 Clair Street in Andrews – were charged with Conspiracy to Commit Arson and Arson in the First Degree, according to Sheriff's Office Spokeswoman Carrie Cuthbertson.

In March, investigators were told by Cohen that her family had recently moved out of the mobile home on James Drive and into a new home, according to Cuthbertson.

Investigators were told by Cohen Coombs attended a birthday party that Friday night and did not answer calls from his mother.

“In the process of the investigation, it was determined (Coombs) returned to the house instead of their new home without the family's knowledge,” Cuthbertson said in March

Once the news of the arrests broke on SouthStrandNews.com last week, many readers started asking about the charges.

“They should be charged with manslaughter in the least. That child would have lived through the night if they had not torched the home. Their explanation does not meet the smell test on this,” wrote reader Lee Padgett.

“I do not think it matters whether they knew he was there or not. His death occurred while they were in the act of them committing another crime. They are directly and ultimately responsible,” wrote Krystal Drohan.

Coroner Kenny Johnson said this week the complete autopsy results showed Coombs died from smoke inhalation and from heat from the fire, meaning he was alive when the fire began.

Johnson said Coombs' body was found near a door “which leads you to think he may have been trying to get out.”

He said because of the smoke inhalation, it's unknown if Coombs was able to scream for help.

Last week, when asked about the charges that were levied, Cuthbertson said “the charges are appropriate for the case.”

Deputy Solicitor Alicia Richardson said her office has consulted with the Sheriff's Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division about the case.

She said the arson charge means the state believes the three suspects purposefully set the fire. She said the arson first degree charge was filed because the fire resulted in a death.

“The death does not have to be intentional,” she said of the arson first degree charge. “The charge does not require there to be an intent of death. Once the fire has been set, the law holds you responsible if there is a death. It does not matter if you know the person is in there or not.”

Richardson was asked if the state believes the three knew Coombs was inside the mobile home when the fire was allegedly set. She said she would not speak specifically about the facts of the case but she did say “they have not been charged with anything indicating they purposefully caused the death of the child.”

She said if new information is uncovered during the continuing investigation, “it's always possible more charges could be filed.”

According to the arrest warrants, the three suspects did “unlawfully plan, and scheme to accomplish the crime of arson at 10 James Drive. The crime was accomplished and did cause the death of (Coombs).”

Richardson said it is believed the fire was set in an attempt to collect insurance money.

Cohen, who moved to Kentucky shortly after her son's death, was arrested in that state and was extradited to Georgetown. She was booked in the Georgetown County Detention Center Wednesday morning.

Miller was released from jail June 8 under a bond of $60,000. Collins remains incarcerated as he awaits a bond hearing on the arson first degree charge.

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