HUDSON — Chad Tompkins watched as his ex-girlfriend carried her things outside his house and into another man's car. When they drove away, he felt relief. She was gone. This was done. As he walked back to claim his house and solitude, Tompkins smelled something.
He ran inside the mobile home, which he had shared with his mother until she passed away last year. He couldn't find the fire. But he knew he smelled smoke. He opened his bedroom door and was knocked back by a thick, black wall of heat. He closed the door and ran to a neighbor's house because, he says, the ex-girlfriend also took his cellphone when she left. The neighbor called 911.
Tompkins waited for help.
"I can't believe she set my house on fire," he kept saying to himself.
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Tompkins, 47, said he and Angela Feightner met as patients at the Pasco County Health Department a few years ago.
Feightner, 34, was a felon who spent five months in prison in 2005 for snatching a purse from a 74-year-old woman at a Kash n' Karry in Hudson and for possession of methamphetamine. Tompkins liked her, she was pretty and kind and funny, and they dated for some time.
But he said their relationship soured and they went their separate ways. His path also led him to the Florida Department of Corrections, where he spent six months last year for possession of controlled substances, withholding information from a prescribing physician and felony DUI, his fourth.
When he was released from prison in November, he said Feightner contacted him.
"Can I just put my stuff here?" he said she asked him.
He reluctantly said yes.
Then, after she brought her things over, Tompkins said she told him she needed a place to stay for a night. Or two.
In December, he said, he noticed she was getting her mail sent to his house on Nava Street.
Tompkins said she showed up for a few days and then was gone for weeks at a time. She slept on the couch. Then she started sleeping in the spare room.
Tompkins said he never gave her a key, so she ripped a hole in the front screen door so she could reach inside and unlock it.
He said he often told her to get out but she refused. He said he didn't want to have to pay the court costs to officially evict her.
On Feb. 8, he said he came home and found her screaming, accusing him of burning most of her belongings in their driveway. He saw the charred mound.
"I didn't do it," he said he told her. But she believed it was him, Tompkins said. And she raged.
He said she opened every can of food in the kitchen. She sprayed sodas throughout the house. She ripped open bags of food and spewed them.
"I'm leaving," he said, and as he walked outside, he said he heard glass breaking. He didn't turn around to find out what it was.
He stayed the night with his sister, who lives next door. This is where he was the next afternoon, Feb. 9, when he watched his ex-girlfriend leave.
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Feightner was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree arson of a dwelling for last month's fire at Tompkins' house. She is being held at the Pasco jail in lieu of $10,000 bail. Feightner declined an interview request from the Times.
"I have nothing to say to her," Tompkins said Thursday at his home, which suffered heavy smoke and water damage. Everything inside the bedroom burned. Last week, Tompkins fell through the floor, weakened by fire and water, while he was in there trying to clean it out. He sliced his wrist on shattered glass and had to get 30 stitches. His trail of blood is still on floor throughout the house and driveway. He hasn't gotten to it yet.
"There is so much to do," he said. He's been cleaning the soot off the walls and cabinets, bit by bit, with Soft Scrub.
He doesn't think about what was lost, collectibles he and his mother found at flea markets, photographs, books, clothes. He views this as a fresh start.
"What would I cry for?" he said. "I want to do something."
He plans to knock down walls, build a huge master bedroom and bathroom with a garden tub. A large, open living room and a kitchen with an island. An office. A second bathroom.
But no second bedroom.
"I don't think I'll be having people stay anymore," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.