Fayette County authorities say they believe a fire late Friday night near Hico is linked to a Memorial Day shooting that left three men dead.

Sheriff Bill Laird said the fire, which was reported around 10:30 p.m., gutted and destroyed the home of Gary Dwayne Martin, 51, who was arrested shortly after Monday’s shooting and charged with murder in the deaths of Carl Blaine Cox Jr., 24, of Edmond, Christopher Lee Legg, 23, of Hico, and Dustin Tyler Hughes, 22, of Hico.

The shootings occurred in the roadway in front of Martin’s home on Stringtown Road. At the time of the fire, Martin was being held at Southern Regional Jail. A preliminary hearing was scheduled Tuesday in Fayette Magistrate Court, but no results were available at press time.

Laird said there were no residents at Martin’s home when Friday night’s fire occurred.

“It is certainly a fire of a suspicious nature,” he said Saturday, adding later that the fire is being investigated as an arson.

“It’s highly probable that’s what it is,” Laird said.

“In the wake of the tragic shooting of the three young men on Monday, there has been a great deal of pain, suffering and anger among persons within the community,” Laird said. “We are a society governed by the rule of law, and the person alleged to have committed these crimes (Martin) has been arrested and is in jail at this time.”

Laird said vigilante justice, acts of retaliation and general lawlessness cannot and will not be tolerated.

“Persons choosing to commit such acts will be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

State fire marshals were on the scene late Friday night and returned Saturday so they could continue their investigation with better, daylight visibility, Laird said. An exact cause had not been determined.

Investigators believe a verbal argument took place before the Memorial Day shootings. Two of the victims were riding ATVs and a third was riding a trail bike just before the gunfire erupted.

There was no indication the victims were riding on Martin’s property, Laird said. They were shot with a rifle on a public roadway.

The fire remains under investigation by sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Willis, state fire marshals and other officers in the sheriff’s department.

Members of the Nuttall, Ansted and Fayetteville fire departments responded to the scene.

Those with any information about the fire are encouraged to contact the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department at 574-3590.

— E-mail: apridemore@register-herald.com

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