RIPLEY – A North Carolina native was being held in the Tippah

RIPLEY – A North Carolina native was being held in the Tippah County Jail Tuesday on charges of arson and manslaughter in connection with the death of his friend.

James Ramsey, 24, was arrested after an early Sunday morning fire in which Wesley Rathbone, 17, also a North Carolina native, died.

Tippah County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy Storey said Ramsey, Rathbone and Rathbone’s 16-year-old wife had been living together in a house on Hensley Street for a little more than two months. Shortly after midnight Sunday, Ramsey and Rathbone got into a physical confrontation. It ended with Ramsey hitting Rathbone in the head. A gas heater also was knocked over during the brawl, which is what may have started the fire, Storey said.

The south end of the house was gutted by flames. Rathbone’s body was found on the north end of the wood-frame structure. Rathbone’s wife had left earlier to stay with her parents.

An autopsy showed Rathbone died of smoke inhalation.

Storey said Ramsey was charged because “we believe he knew the house was on fire and didn’t say anything about it.”

An hour after the fire, Ramsey called authorities and said his friend had a head injury but mentioned nothing about a fire, Storey said.

No bond had been set for Ramsey Tuesday.

Cynthia M. Jeffries

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