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Transient accused of setting fire to homeless camps

HUDSON — As their tents burned earlier this month, the homeless people of the woods stomped and fumed and screamed. They said Scrappy lit their homes on fire because a teenage girl refused to have sex with him. They said Scrappy — Elton Gaffney, a 38-year-old transient who has spent more than 10 years in prison — torments them and steals their money and belongings.

"We want him caught," said George Graeff, 57, a homeless man whose belongings burned, while he watched crews extinguish the fire Feb. 1.

Graeff got his wish.

Gaffney was charged Thursday with criminal mischief for allegedly igniting the fire, which burned two homeless camps in 3 acres of woods along the west side of U.S. 19 just south of Beacon Woods Drive. He's been in the Pasco jail since Feb. 10 on charges of robbery, petit theft and simple battery. Gaffney is accused of stealing a homeless man's Taser earlier that day in those same woods. When the victim refused to give Gaffney the electrical charger, Gaffney held the man upside down by his ankles, grabbed the charger out of the victim's pocket and then used the Taser on the victim's groin area, a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report states.

On the day of the fire, witnesses said they heard propane tanks explode and saw Gaffney running from the woods as the fire roared. Officials estimate about three dozen people escaped. No one was injured.

"We will get him," said Graeff, who hobbled to safety on his cane. A sheriff's report said Graeff is a victim of Gaffney's in an extortion case, but sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the case is active and no information was available to be released.

Gaffney is being held at the Pasco jail in lieu of $31,150 bail.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

Transient accused of setting fire to homeless camps 02/17/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2012 8:49pm]
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