2 NC men's warrants detail murder, arson at mobile home in Aynor

Tommy Lee Benton. Source: Columbus County Detention Center
Tommy Lee Benton. Source: Columbus County Detention Center
Mitchell Douglas Cheatham. Source: Columbus County Detention Center
Mitchell Douglas Cheatham. Source: Columbus County Detention Center

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Two men were arrested in North Carolina on Thursday night and face charges in connection with a mobile home fire that killed a man.

One man was trapped and killed in a fully-involved single-wide mobile home fire at around 3 a.m. Tuesday near Aynor, Horry County Fire Rescue crews confirmed.

Charles Bryant Smith, 68, died in the fire, a Horry County deputy coroner confirmed after the autopsy late Tuesday afternoon.

Tommy Lee Benton, a 20-year-old  from Chadbury, NC, and Mitchell Douglas Cheatham, 19, from Council, NC, are both being charged with murder and arson in connection with this incident, Horry County Police officials confirmed Friday. Both men are currently in custody in North Carolina on unrelated charges, awaiting extradition to Horry County.

Cheatham and Benton were arrested overnight Thursday, along with Heather Faircloth from Tabor City, NC, for the armed robbery of a McDonald's in Tabor City on April 28 at about 12:36 a.m., confirmed Captain Russell Conway with Tabor City Police.

In addition to the arson and murder charges, Cheatham and Benton were charged with conspiracy to commit robbery with dangerous weapon, robbery with a dangerous weapon, second degree kidnapping, and larceny of a motor vehicle in connection with the McDonald's robbery. Faircloth was charged with conspiracy to commit robbery with dangerous weapons. As of Friday, all three were housed at the Columbus County Sheriff's Office.

An arrest warrant issued by the Horry County Police Department states Cheatham, with malice and aforethought caused the death of Smith by pouring gasoline on him and setting him and the residence on fire. Probable cause is based on a post miranda confession, statements and phone records.

The warrant also states Benton beat and restrained Smith inside of the residence as it was being set on fire. Police say probable cause is based on witness statements and phone records.

The Aynor mobile home arson case remains open, HCPD officials stated, and additional arrests are possible.

Based on what the Major Crimes Unit observed at the scene of the fire, it was determined that the incident was intentional, and a homicide investigation began, according to Lt. Robert Kegler with the Horry County Police Department.

Neighbors of the victim are also his tenants. He was the landlord to many of the homes in the neighborhood. Neighbors knew the victim as "CB" and say he was the owner of CBS Outlet Furniture & Co., which burned down over the weekend.

Lt. Robert Kegler confirmed that they are now looking into whether or not the two fires are connected in this investigation, but say there is currently no indication that they are.

The fire scene occurred off 501 North between Temple Drive and White Oak Lane, near the John Deere equipment store. When crews arrived on scene of the single-wide mobile home around 2:45 a.m., the blaze was fully involved. HCFR also confirmed a second mobile home was damaged.

The coroner says the cause of death will be known after toxicology reports come back, which could take 60 to 90 days.

Smith's children set up candles after the fire, around what was left of the his home and car.

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