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Father Who Was Set on Fire Dies; Son Charged With Murder

Tampa Bay Tribune via YellowBrix

August 24, 2010

TAMPA – Ronald W. Harris Sr., the victim burned by his son Ronald Harris Jr., has succumbed to his injuries. Harris died shortly before 6 p.m., Monday.

Harris Jr., is now charged with first degree murder and arson. He is scheduled for his first appearance in court today at 1 p.m.

As reported Monday by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, at approximately 7:18 p.m., Sunday, Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to 209 King George Drive, Davenport to a report of an adult male being set on fire.

Witnesses came to the aid of Harris, Sr., 58, and transported him to Orlando Regional Medical Center where he was originally listed in critical condition.

The victim’s son, Harris, Jr., 37, was reported to have doused his father with gasoline and then used a lighter to ignite the gas.


Ronald W. Harris Jr., 37, of Davenport, is charged with first degree murder and arson for dousing his father with gasoline and using a lighter to set him on fire. Polk County Jail Photo

In a news release furnished by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the suspect fled the scene and Sheriff’s Office deputies began a search of the area. The suspect was located behind some nearby businesses in the pre-dawn hours and taken into custody for questioning.

Witness Michael Meechin of Davenport, said he didn’t hear anything, but his dog started to bark, alerting him that something was very wrong outside.

“My wife saw a man laying down in our front yard,” Meechin said. “I think he was trying to get across the street because there were some guys over there working on a house.”

Meechin called 911.

“I didn’t know if it was dangerous. I didn’t know what the heck was going on, but the operator was asking me questions that I couldn’t answer so I had to go outside,” he said. “I told her everything and I think she was just as shocked as me. It’s hard to process everything when you are saying what is actually happening.”

Meechin said that it took approximately eight to 10 minutes for emergency medical services to arrive, and that Harris ran approximately 30 feet before dropping to the ground. He also said that he didn’t know the Harris’ and thought that the house he ran from was a vacation home.

When asked if he was okay after this experience, Meechin said, “I’m good. You obviously have that image in your head. You just try to get it out of your head, especially when going outside.”

“When you see something like that, you think that something exploded (causing a person to be engulfed in flames), not a violent crime,” Meechin said. “He’s behind bars right now. We hope he’ll stay there.”

According to Donna Wood, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, Harris, Jr. was detained under the Baker Act in March. Under Florida Law, the Baker Act allows authorities to detain an individual who is thought to cause harm to himself or others.

Wood also said that at the time Harris, Jr. dowsed his father with gasoline and ignited the fire, he was not under the influence of any mind altering medication or alcohol, although he does have a history of bipolar issues.

According to Wood, Harris, Jr. was scheduled to appear in court Monday in front of a jury on charges of fleeing to allude the Lake Hamilton Police Department. There was also a warrant out for his arrest.

His crime record shows three bookings into the Polk County Jail on seven different charges.