Man charged with arson in fatal Greenville hotel fire

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - A Taylors man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the death of six people at a hotel fire in Greenville almost two years ago, the U.S. attorneys office said Thursday.

Eric Preston Hans, 35, was indicted on one count of arson resulting in the death of six persons in the Jan. 25, 2004, fire at Comfort Inn and Suites, U.S. Attorney Johnny Gasser said.

Arraignment was scheduled for Monday morning before U.S. District Judge Henry Herlong, Jr., in Greenville.

The indictment charges that Hans acted alone in setting the blaze, which also injured 11 people.

Greenville County sheriff's deputies, State Law Enforcement Division agents and agents of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives investigated the case.

Hans is serving a five-year prison sentence at the Kershaw Correctional Institution on burglary-related charges, Corrections Department records show. He pleaded guilty in Greenville in early August to third-degree burglary, receiving stolen goods and making implements used in a crime.

Hans was transferred from state custody to federal custody Thursday morning and was taken to an Upstate jail, where he will be held until Monday, said Nancy Wicker, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

She would not elaborate on what prompted the arson charge, and other law enforcement officials would not talk about the case.

Gasser's said the number of victims, the fact that the arson involved a commercial building and the availability of an investigative federal grand jury prompted the decision to pursue the case in federal court.

Hans could face a death sentence or life in prison without parole if he is convicted, Gasser said. U. S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will make the decision as to the penalty to be sought in this case.

Those who were killed in the fire include Allison Lorraine Barfield, 19, of North Augusta; Melba Lashawn Canty, 21, of Greenville; Jaden Demarion Cromer, 15 months, of Greenville; Matthew Greene, 26, of Greenwood; Jessica Lane Hamby, 19, of Conover, N.C.; and Donna Lea Swain, 36, of Conover, N.C.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the hotel owners and operators as a result of the blaze. Both the owner and operators have denied responsibility for the blaze.