Lake View police say home fire and dog death while family is away ‘absolutely horrific’

LAKE VIEW, S.C. (WBTW) — Before dawn Friday, James “JJ” Smith was asleep — his wife was by his side and their five children were nearby.

A stranger was banging on the family’s door. It was around 1 a.m.

“This guy came into my house screaming. (I) didn’t know who he was. I got up. He told me my truck and my garage were on fire,” said Smith, Lake View’s deputy police chief. “(I) went outside. (My) truck was on fire. I immediately started putting out the fire with a garden hose while I waited for the fire department to arrive.”

Lake View Police Assistant Chief James “JJ” Smith / News13

It was a crime committed in the dark, and it left Smith feeling confused, terrified, and angry.

“Absolutely terrifying,” he said. “That’s the worst part, when you’re screaming to get your kids out of the house while you’re putting out a fire and your kids are actually watching.”

The garage is about two feet from the family’s home, and Smith believes they all would have died if not for the stranger who rushed inside.

“I thank them from the bottom of my heart,” Smith said. “They didn’t have to stop. If he hadn’t stopped and passed, that truck coming up the mountain, my patrol car, the barn and probably the house where I slept with my kids would have been next, so he saved our lives.”

Hours after the fire, Smith and his family were on a previously planned weekend getaway to North Carolina, where their lovable but energetic Dalmatian was safe in a large outdoor pen.

When the Smiths returned home Sunday, the dog was dead, and a new wave of fear washed over them all. The family’s other dog was unharmed.

“It really does feel personal,” Smith said. “I don’t know who would have a personal vendetta against me. To me, everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody is different than me, so I’ve always treated everyone that way.

Smith told News13 Tuesday that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating with Dillon County detectives. Sheriff Jamie Hamilton referred inquiries about the incident to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

“Congratulations to Dillon County,” Smith said. “They tried everything they could, and I know they didn’t stop. They have a great sheriff. They have a great team of detectives. They work hand in hand with SLED. This case is still open and it’s not going to close anytime soon.”

Meanwhile, Smith personally is offering a $1,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest.

“I want these people to go to prison,” he said. “My family shouldn’t have to live in fear. My wife and kids shouldn’t have to be afraid to come home, and they’re literally afraid to come home.”

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Adam Benson joined the News13 digital team in January 2024. He is a seasoned South Carolina reporter who previously worked at the Greenwood Index-Journal, Post & Courier and The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. Adam is a Boston native and a graduate of the University of Utah. Follow Adam on X, formerly on Twitter, at @AdamNewshound12You can find more of his work here.