Ramblin’ Roy’s Fire Under ATF Investigation
By Kathy Bedell © Saguache Today
One week ago, on Thursday, Feb. 8 at 5:50 p.m. the first call came into the Saguache County Emergency Dispatch Center about a fire out at the Lazy KV Estates. Just about the time most residents were settling in for the evening, the call for help rang out at “Ramblin’” Roy Smith’s residence, located east of the town of Saguache.
Friends and neighbors were quick to respond as reported by Smith’s neighbor, Verlin Holmbeck via a community Facebook Page: “the guy across from us & one of my boys & I were right there within minutes.” Fortunately, Roy was able to escape the flames without serious injury. His home and all of its contents were a total loss.
While the fire is still under investigation, initial reports from Smith indicate that the incident was perpetrated as a hate crime, an intentional arson. As a result, yesterday, February 14, an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was on the scene, to gather additional evidence. As many know, the ATF’s responsibilities include “the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.” In other words, there was a concern that the fire could have been intentional and therefore the proper protocols were initiated by local law enforcement.
“They (ATF) brought a dog with them to the scene to determine if any accelerators were used in the fire,” explained Saguache County Sheriff Deputy Tyler Harford in an interview with Saguache Today.
After the blaze was extinguished, it was local opinion that got fired up on the social media platforms. Of course, any house fire would be a newsworthy topic in a small town, but when it’s the home of Ramblin’ Roy, the story takes on a different tone. For readers unfamiliar with his story, it’s filled with enough heartbreak and pain, turned into triumph, and back into tragedy to make for a good film. And that’s exactly what a New York City documentary film maker did in 2000.
You can read that full story and more information about the film made about Smith’s life HERE. However, for Saguache friends and neighbors, Ramblin’ Roy has been part of the local arts and hipster scene for some time, traveling back and forth between Saguache and Salida in recent years.
Therefore, it didn’t take long for the Saguache helpers to rally. It’s impressive to report what has transpired in a week’s time. It speaks to the HEART of Saguache. Not only did Laurie Vigil jump into action and start a collection drive for clothing and other day-to-day necessities, but Chrystal Knight used her keen Girl Scout Troop leader skills to establish a Go Fund Me account for the Saguache resident which will assist in getting Roy back up on his feet, financially. Within days, a new trailer was delivered to his property, to make sure that Roy wouldn’t “ramble” away too far.
But according to some reports, including from Smith himself, he’d have a good enough reason to move along, if his accusation about the cause of the fire pans out to be true.
In fact, Deputy Harford was able to confirm to Saguache Today that Smith stated that “it was members of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), a white supremacist group, that threw gasoline into his bus and that’s what lit it on fire.”
However, initial reports from the scene don’t appear to support that claim.
“No one had seen anybody stop there, or fleeing from the scene,” reported Deputy Harford. In addition, none of Smith’s neighbors reported hearing any yelling or screaming coming from the scene. “As far as I can tell,” he continued, “it seemed to be started from the wood stove that was in the bus (Roy’s home).”
A Facebook post from neighbor Verlin Holmbeck, who Deputy Harford confirmed lives some 200 yards from Smith’s residence, seems to support that conclusion as well: “my boys & I were right there within minutes, wish I would have seen someone, I would’ve chased em down.”
Of course, the fire is still considered an active investigation, as emergency responders continue to complete their reports. Deputy Harford confirmed that the following agencies responded to the fire: the Saguache County Sheriff’s Department, and the Northern Saguache Volunteer Fire Department, with assistance from additional firefighting personnel and equipment from nearby Moffat and Villa Grove. The blaze was completely extinguished shortly after crews arrived.
As for the ATF’s official determination, it will likely take 6 weeks for those results to come in, which will determine if there was an excessive presence of accelerants (i.e. gas) found at the scene. If you have any additional information that can be helpful to investigators in this case, please contact the Saguache County Sherriff’s Department at (719) 655-2525.