By Donna McCollum - email
NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, Texas (KTRE) - The Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office arrested the boyfriend of a woman whose home was destroyed by fire Friday night. He is charged with arson.
Firefighters responded to the blaze Friday night around 6:30 p.m. on FM 1878. The home, which belonged to Tammy Gilbert, was a total loss. Gilbert said her two dogs died in the blaze. " It's like I'm having a nightmare and I haven't woke up yet," said Gilbert.
Gilbert said she and her boyfriend, Steve Lynn Skidmore, 46, of Quinlan, had been arguing all day. " He had been texting me stuff all day," said Gilbert. " We had been having problems."
Gilbert said Skidmore did not want her to go to a Christmas party her employer was holding, but she did anyway. Gilbert joined co workers from The Right Step, a daycare for youngsters, at her boss' house to celebrate the season. Before departing, " I made him leave. I didn't want him in my home because he was mad," said Gilbert.
By the time she got to the party, a co worker came running in with the bad news. " In a 45 minute radius, maybe from the time she left, until (getting in town) it was quickly engulfed in flames. It burned quickly," said JoEl Taylor. Taylor learned of the fire from her sister, who lives down the road from Gilbert.
Several fire fighting departments arrived, but all they could do was keep the fire from spreading to nearby woods and residences.
Gilbert stood hopelessly by as her house burned with two small dogs inside. At the time of the fire Skidmore drove up and stood by his girlfriend's side. " Not for a moment did I suspect he could have done something like this," said Gilbert. Skidmore even put his arm around Gilbert to console her, according to Gilbert.
Only afterwards did Gilbert realize how strange Skidmore was acting. " He showed no surprise or emotion. I mean, he didn't ask what happened or anything like that," recalled Gilbert.
Then Gilbert became suspicious. "There was talk that he was seen leaving my home and then there was a fire on my porch. But still, how do you--how, how, do you have somebody do that to you and say 'he loves me', " said a tearful Gilbert.
Investigators confirmed the rumors and placed Skidmore under arrest.
Gilbert said a neighbor saw Skidmore leave the house in his pickup truck before the fire started.
Investigator Danny Kitchens with the Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Department said Skidmore did not confess to the crime Friday night, but the witness statement was enough evidence to put him in jail.
"He had to go to jail. We already think he burned a person's house down. We were afraid what else he could do if he walked out of here," said Kitchens. He's requesting an arson dog from the state fire marshal's office to help determine what was used to start the fire.
As Skidmore sits in jail, Gilbert was back at work on Monday morning preparing broccoli and cheese casserole for hungry toddlers. The food service director is trying to put a bad relationship behind her and two sons.
"He made threats, you know, he was going to kill all of us and then himself," said Gilbert. Skidmore's records show no felony convictions.
Gilbert said there were plenty of 'red flags' indicating Skidmore's tendencies. Her advice to women in violent relationships is to get out as soon as possible.
Gilbert said her Christmas blessings are her family's safe and she has supportive co workers.
Gilbert did not have content insurance on the home, she said, and is living with her mother as she figures out how to rebuild the house. She said Red Cross gave her money to get back on her feet, and Belk Department Store donated clothing. She said co-workers at The Right Step are working to connect her with other agencies. A fund has been set up in her name at Commercial Bank.