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Little Nashville Opry manager charged with arson

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The manager of a concert hall that hosted some of country music's top acts was arrested on an arson charge Tuesday in connection with the September 2009 blaze that destroyed the hall, authorities said.

Little Nashville Opry Manager James Bowyer, 75, was arrested by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Indiana fire marshal and the Brown County sheriff, county prosecutor Jim Oliver said.

Bowyer was being held in the Brown County Jail on $20,000 bond. It wasn't clear whether he had an attorney. Oliver said he expected Bowyer to have an initial hearing in the Brown Circuit Court on Wednesday.

There's no evidence of anyone else being involved in the fire, the prosecutor said.

Despite hosting many of country music's top acts after it opened in 1975, the 2,000-seat Little Nashville Opry was deep in debt at the time of the fire as were Bowyer and sole owner Esther Hamilton, a friend of Bowyer, ATF Special Agent Michael Vergon said in a probable cause affidavit.

The Opry owed more than $280,000 in property taxes, vendor invoices, insurance and performer fees at the time of the fire, he said.

Hamilton, "a frequent patron of several Indiana casinos," where she liked to play the slot machines, had gambling losses of $150,000 over four years and debts totaling about $685,000 at the time of the fire, Vergon said. Bowyer had gambling losses of more than $160,000 and just $148 in his savings account at the time of the fire.

Eight samples of fire debris showed traces of ignitable liquids, and part of the Opry's sprinkler system had been disconnected, Vergon said.

Hamilton had received a purchase offer of $2 million for the Opry in 2008, but the sale fell through when the financing company determined it wasn't worth that much, Vergon said. Hamilton, however, had spent the $250,000 in earnest money for personal expenses and to pay down gambling debts, the agent said.

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  • That was a given
    I knew this from the get go, they were losing money, not paying bills or entertainers, pretty simple plan. Burn place down, collect insurance money, retire. Well, how'd that work out for ya?!

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  1. Again, Maria.... how much are YOU contributing? The man doesn't HAVE to give a red cent! What don't you get about that? And, I know this might actually require some actual "facts", but can you please point me to the parking garage that the city gave to him?

  2. Another internet tuff guy I see. And what would the basis of taking the person to jail? If they were drunk, yea. But if not, there would be no jailable offense. All these gestapo, Nazi, jackboots are running SCARED. When the SHTF in this country who's side are you going to be on? The citzens, or the establishment? Better make up your mind quick because it's not far off. I would rather be trying to make friends than enemies. But no worries my "friend", God will take care of you and your likes in good time. It tells us that in the bible. If you stand, support and help carry out the plans of evil rulers, you will NOT be spared the wrath of God. That simple. All you can do is repent now and ask God to forgive you.

  3. Yes, Ersal, thank you for donating a whole $75,000, while the city gives you a parking garage for free and is going to pay for a multi million dollar stadium for you. I'd be donating money too if I was on welfare.

  4. I live and work in Broad Ripple and agree 100% that the traffic is not a significant problem. It can be slow at some times, but hey...this is an urban area. As for the development itself...HOORAY. Office and retail development brings people during the day, something that our community needs much more of. Thank goodness people are finally waking up to take advantage of the serene White River views. The BRVA land us committee endorsed the project because they know how these kind of projects help offset the cries of "too many bars". Pray that this development, and the proposed major investment by Browning, move forward. And remember Good Earth, these will mean hundreds of daytime people - potential shoppers for your store.

  5. Under current, previous existing law, this new law would be unconstitutional. Not that supposedly having to have a driver's license to drive isn't in the first place.

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