Fire marshal unravels mystery of chip-aisle arson at Lufkin Walmart

Fire marshal unravels mystery of chip-aisle arson at Lufkin Walmart
Fire marshal unravels mystery of 2019 chip-aisle arson at Lufkin Walmart (Source: KTRE)

ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - The suspect who allegedly set a fire inside Lufkin’s Walmart has been identified, and the probable cause affidavit explains how the case was unraveled by Fire Marshal Keith Cole and Livingston Police Officer Marty Drake.

Cole’s sworn affidavit says that the fire occurred on January 7, 2019. The fire was in the chip aisle of the local Walmart store, and was set purposely, officials determined. The store was temporarily evacuated, and no one was injured.

Lufkin police viewed the surveillance video provided by Walmart officials. They saw the suspect on the chip aisle, and they saw in another video the car he got into when he left the scene, a blueish Chrysler 300. Also in the car were a woman and a child.

Cole said a few days later, a tip came in that the car in the video was seen at High Point Apartments in Lufkin. Apartment management said the car belonged to a certain apartment which was rented to a woman. He spoke to that woman, who said that a man named Michael Smith was with her, according to the affidavit.

On January 14, 2019, Livingston Police called Cole and said that an informant identified the suspect from surveillance photos as Johnzell Warren Wilson, who has an alias of Joey Andretti. Livingston PD Officer Marty Drake said he had an active arrest warrant on the man and would question him about the chip-aisle arson when he was arrested, and would call the fire marshal to let him know of his whereabouts.

A Walmart in Lufkin was temporarily evacuated after several bags of chips caught on fire Monday night.
A Walmart in Lufkin was temporarily evacuated after several bags of chips caught on fire Monday night. (Source: KTRE viewer)

The fire marshal again questioned the woman at the apartment complex whose car Johnzell Wilson was allegedly seen in at the scene of the arson. She admitted to lying about the identity of the man, confessing that it was Wilson who had been with her at Walmart, not a man named Smith.

Officer Drake called the fire marshal on May 28, 2019, who said that Johnzell Wilson had been booked into the Polk County Jail for resisting arrest and probation violation.

On May 29, Fire Marshall Cole and Captain Wade Modisette went to the jail to interview Johnzell Wilson. He admitted to them that he had indeed started the fire in Walmart. He said he had been drunk and used a lighter to burn a hole in a bag of chips in the store, the affidavit says.

Officials say the fire spread and caused damage to several aisles, resulting in large loss of merchandise to the store. The affidavit says that by starting the fire inside an occupied business inside the city limits of Lufkin, Wilson committed the offence of PC 28.02 arson, which is punishable as a felony of the second degree.

More information about any future trials will be shared when revealed to us by county officials.

Lufkin police released a photo of a suspect involved in chip aisle fire. (Source: Lufkin police)
Lufkin police released a photo of a suspect involved in chip aisle fire. (Source: Lufkin police)

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