, the lawyer and real estate developer who says he was bound by armed intruders in his Chenal Circle home early this morning
and managed to escape the fire intruders set, said he can think of no one with a reason to do him harm. He also said, as a lawyer, he understood that investigators might consider whether he had a role, but commented, "I'd never take a chance at burning myself alive."
He said there was nothing in the $1.8 million home of extraordinary value to robbers, if that was the intruders’ goal. The interior of the home was destroyed by fire and Jones has been unable to re-enter until inspectors tell him it is safe, but he said it likely would be difficult to tell if anything was taken, the destruction was so complete. The most expensive item in the home was a grand piano. More on the jump.
Jones said he’d been on vacation with his family at a second home near Seaside, Fla., but returned early for work purposes on Wednesday night. His wife and two children, ages 5 and 6, stayed in Florida. “I’m really glad they weren’t with me. Thank God they weren’t.” Their bedrooms were upstairs in the home at 43 Chenal Circle, the western Little Rock subdivision's premier address.
Thursday night, Jones, 31, said he’d visited friends then returned home about 9:30 p.m. and went to bed. “I laid down and watched TV and then fell asleep. At some point in the night I started waking up. You know the feeling you have when somebody is standing in a room with you? My kids do it. They stand by the bed until I wake up.”
“I turned over about that time and they stuck a gun in my face and said ‘don’t move.’ Then they covered my mouth and eyes with duct tape and then my ankles and hands. I laid there scared to death.”
How many people were in the room?
“Clearly there was one who had a gun. But it all happened so fast. I know there was that person. I know I was laying flat when they bound me. It had to take more than one person. Someone was man-handling me.”
Jones said he lay there for a period of time that “felt like forever,” though it probably wasn’t more than 10 or 15 minutes. He lay still, as ordered. He said the voice of the man wasn’t familiar to him. “There was coming and going in the room.” The master bedroom is on the first floor of the house.
“After a period of time, I smelled smoke. Obviously, I was concerned. I moved and nobody said anything. At that point, I was able to get my arms up enough to pull the tape off my eyes. Our room has 12-foot ceilings and it was probably four feet thick with solid black smoke.”
“I didn’t see anyone around and I took the tape off my mouth. And I basically hopped out of the house through a door in the bedroom that goes out to our pool. If it had been locked, I probably couldn’t have gotten out. I fell once or twice and hopped and crawled to a neighbor’s house across the street. I banged on the door and yelled, ‘I’m your neighbor. My house is on fire.’ She opened the door and looked out and then closed the door. I heard her call the police and say, ‘There’s a man on the front porch who’s tied up and says his house is on fire.” Jones said he didn’t know the neighbor well. When a police officer arrived, he removed the duct tape from Jones’ arms and legs.
Jones said he knew of no one with reason to do him harm. “I’ve never had anyone threaten me. I’ve had disagreements. We’re among the largest land developers in Central Arkansas and we do a lot of projects in a lot of places and every now and then people are not always happy. I’ve also been a judge in Haskell. But I never thought anything had ever happened to cause me alarm or concern for my safety.”
I asked Jones, too, about the possibility that suspicion might fall on him. “I’m a lawyer and I definitely understand that sort of thought. But I sure as hell wouldn’t set my house on fire with me in it. I’d never take a chance at burning myself alive.”
Jones said the loss was a devastating one. “We love that house. We love our stuff. We lost everything — my wife’s wedding dress, pictures of a trip of a lifetime to Europe, all my kids’ toys, my Eagle Scout badge and merit badges, my first teddy bear. All that stuff is gone. It’s the kind of stuff you can’t replace. I just walked out of the house with gym shorts and the T-shirt I was wearing.”
As for the fact that the house was for sale and carried debt equal to the asking price, Jones said: “The house is an insignificant portion of my overall financial picture. I’m a homebuilder and developer. In the 10 years I’ve been married, I haven’t lived in a house that wasn’t for sale. That’s what I do. Build and sell homes. We plan to build 150 in the next 12 months.”
He said he knew times were tough in the real estate business, but his own business was an exception. A Benton native, he does most of his work in Saline County. “We’re having the best year we’ve ever had. It was another record year for our real estate and title business. May was the highest grossing month we’ve ever had at the title business in terms of both dollar volume and transactions closed. We’re having just a phenomenal year. A lot of other people are suffering, but we aren’t.”
He said he’d already pre-sold several houses in a Midtown Bryant development that’s meant to emulate Seaside, Fla.’s planned look.
What now? “I don’t know. We’re going to figure out what we’re going to do to provide shelter and basic necessities to rebuild our life.”