Arson charges filed

Police say man tried to cover up car stereo theft by starting fire, which spread to law offices

By Paul L. Mikolajczyk News Herald Writer 747-5089 /

PANAMA CITY A convicted thief faces arson and burglary charges after police accused him of starting a fire last month that destroyed a Panama City law firm’s office.

Panama City police said Donald Clifford Black, 47, ignited a fire inside a car parked behind the law office of Ledman, Hamm & Lord, 1007 Jenks Ave., at about 1 a.m. on April 26, moments after he broke into the vehicle. The fire spread to the office building and gutted the structure.

Detective Jon Morris of the Panama City Police Department said the incident began when Black and two friends drove from a Panama City bar to Black’s 1012 Oak Ave. residence, parking the car in the back yard of the law firm’s office.

Morris said the men got out of the car and Black began arguing with the friends over the sale of stereo equipment. After the argument, the two men left the area but Black stayed behind, broke into the parked car to steal CDs and a radar detector and used gasoline to set the car on fire, Morris said.

Morris said crime lab analysis of evidence collected at the scene confirmed suspicions that the fire was arson. Morris said Black did not confess to the crime but gave “inconsistent” statements to detectives during questioning.

Morris refuted rumors that a drug deal had taken place and said there was no connection between Black and the law firm.

Attorneys Thomas Ledman and Jerry Hamm said they were grateful to police and fire investigators for investigating the crime and making an arrest.

The fire destroyed their office and almost all of its furnishings. However, about 90 percent of the law firm’s case files were recovered from filing cabinets, Ledman said.

The law firm has temporarily moved its operations to 420 W. Beach Drive and the attorneys anticipate having their office reconstructed in about six to eight months.

Black, charged with the arson and burglary in connection to the law firm fire, already was in the Bay County Jail following his arrest last week on violation of probation charges, Morris said.