Fire set at third Bluffton business in a week, police say

Clements, Joseph
Clements, Joseph

A third Bluffton business within a week was intentionally set on fire early Thursday by a flaming object thrown inside its window Thursday, and police have named a suspect in one of last week's arsons.

Three arrest warrants have been filed for Joseph Samuel Clements Jr., 23, of Savannah for felony burglary, arson and theft in connection with the Nov. 4 arson and burglary at Easy 2 Own Furnishings, 21 Simmonsville Road, according to Capt. Bryan Norberg, Bluffton police spokesman.

Clements also is a person of interest in one of two other incidents, including Thursday's fire at USA Rider Co., a motorcycle sales and rental business, according to a news release.

Fire crews arrived at the motorcycle shop at Suite 101 in the Plantation Business Park at 22 Plantation Park Drive at about 3 a.m. and found the rear of the business in flames, said Lt. Randy Hunter, a Bluffton Township Fire District spokesman.

Police Chief David McAllister said the fire was started by a flaming object thrown through the window. Investigators believe the fire is connected to last week's suspicious fires, he said.

"The fires began in exactly the same way," he said.

Last Thursday, fires were set 15 minutes apart between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. at Top Dollar Pawn on Kitties Landing Road and Easy 2 Own Furnishings, according to authorities, who believe the fires were started in attempts to rob the businesses. Both stores were closed and unoccupied at the time.

A surveillance camera outside Easy 2 Own Furnishings recorded a man with a bandana over his face breaking in and stealing small electronics. As he left the store, he threw a Molotov cocktail through a front window, according to Bluffton police.

Investigators have not determined if anything was stolen from the motorcycle shop, Norberg said. Nothing was stolen from the pawn shop, but a nearby business, Sebastian Multiservices at 1304 Fording Island Road, was robbed.

Thursday's blaze was contained quickly, but crews stayed on the scene about three hours to make sure it had not spread into the shopping center's attic, Hunter said.

Heat and smoke damage to the motorcycle shop was extensive, and smoke caused light damage to other parts of the building, which contains five or six businesses, he said.

Norberg said Bluffton investigators are working with Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police to locate Clements, who has previous drug and trespassing charges in Chatham County.

"We're not sure if Clements has a friend in the area who is helping him. We're trying to identify his connection here," Norberg said. "We think it's important the community is on the lookout for him."