LUMBERTON — A South Lumberton convenience store that has often been the backdrop of violent crime was severely damaged by a fire late Thursday night, prompting a city councilman to say most people “will not shed a tear.”
“That place has been the hub of crime, drug sales … robberies and violent crimes and much more,” Councilman John Cantey said in a statement about V-Point Tobacco, which sits at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Marion Road — more commonly called “the V-Point.”
The store, which has a sign on the front reading Hunt Brother’s Pizza, is in Precinct 5, which Cantey represents.
Mohamed Bouia-Ahmed, the owner, was inside at about 10:40 p.m. when flames started to come out from the back of a cooler inside the store, according to Chief Murray West of the Lumberton Fire Department. Another employee and a customer were also inside, but according to West, no one was seriously hurt.
West said Bouia-Ahmed tried to extinguish the flames before reporting the fire, but the blaze was spreading too fast.
“In less than an hour it was under control, but it spread so fast and with the age and condition of the roof … it started to collapse within 10 minutes,” West said.
Because the roof collapsed, investigators have not been able to do a full assessment of the damage to the store, but West said it’s “pretty much totalled.”
West said it’s not likely the fire was set intentionally, although the investigation is ongoing.
“From all indication … it looks like it’s very possible it was an electrical fire,” West said.
West said Bouia-Ahmed cut his finger while trying to put out the blaze, and was treated by Lumberton Rescue and Emergency Medical Services on site.
“They always send an ambulance to be on standby,” he said.
The V-Point area has been the site of many violent crimes, including a November incident during which a 17-year-old was shot in the leg.
Cantey said he had been pursuing a public nuisance complaint against the store and had filed “99 pages of incidents” with Lumberton’s city attorney in 2012.
“… The loss of property or revenue for anyone is a tragedy,” Cantey said, “but I bet you that 90 percent of the citizens will not shed a tear. “
Cantey worries those who perpetrated crimes at V-Point Tobacco will move now north to the Highway 41 Atex store, which he says also sees frequent crime.
“Now, here comes the gang turf war …,” he said.
In August 2006, a clerk at the store was shot and recovered. In June 2008, a Fairmont man was shot to death near V-Point while riding his bicycle.