Neighbors defend man accused of stealing from fatal fire scene

FORT WORTH — By most accounts, Willie Ray Young is the "junk man" of the Hallmark neighborhood in south Fort Worth.

For years, Young has driven around the neighborhood picking up discarded appliances, bicycles and numerous other odds and ends from homes.

Today, neighbors are rallying around Young after his arrest on Aug. 16 after being accused by Fort Worth police of stealing items from the scene of a fatal house fire that claimed the life of a 9-year-old boy.

Young, 76, was charged with theft from $500 to $1,500, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $4,000 fine. He has been free on $1,500 bail but has declined to comment on the case.

Pat Tomerlin of Fort Worth, who has has known Young for more than five years, said earlier this week that she was shocked when she heard he had been arrested.

"I then became angry," said Tomerlin, secretary of the Hallmark-Camelot-Highland Terrance Neighborhood Association, which is in the area where the house burned and where Young and his wife live. "He's an honest person who just goes around the neighborhood picking up stuff. He sees if he can fix it and then gives it to people who might need it. If he can't get it to work, he just junks it."

Tomerlin said she plans to accompany Young at his next court appearance.

Young is accused of stealing a washer, dryer, eight pieces of thin-metal pipes and a rusted out barbecue grill from the burned-out residence during the weekend of Aug. 15-16.

The washer and dryer reportedly didn't work, and the pipes were in a pile of debris on the driveway. The grill, which had a burned-out bottom, was near the garage.

Young, who had never been arrested before this month, did not enter the burned-out home.

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