By most accounts, Willie Ray Young is the “junkman” of the Hallmark neighborhood in south Fort Worth.
For years, he’s driven around the neighborhood picking up discarded appliances, bicycles, and other odds and ends from homes.
Now neighbors are rallying around Young, who was arrested Aug. 16 and accused of stealing from the scene of a fatal house fire that killed a 9-year-old boy.
Young, 76, was charged with theft of $500 to $1,500, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. He is free on $1,500 bail but has declined to comment.
Pat Tomerlin of Fort Worth, who has known Young for more than five years, said this week that she was shocked to learn about his arrest.
“I then became angry,” said Tomerlin, secretary of the Hallmark-Camelot-Highland Terrace Neighborhood Association, which is in the area where the house burned and where Young and his wife live.
“He’s an honest person who just goes around the neighborhood picking up stuff. He sees if he can fix it and then gives it to people who might need it. If he can’t get it to work, he just junks it.”
Tomerlin said she plans to accompany Young to his next court appearance.
“He’s very helpful in the neighborhood,” she said. “Everyone who has been in the neighborhood for a long time has seen him around.”
The Aug. 14 fire killed David Ramirez and destroyed his family’s home in the 6600 block of Rockdale Road. David’s three brothers escaped. The cause was still under investigation Tuesday.
Young is accused of stealing a washer, a dryer, eight pieces of thin metal pipes and a rusted-out barbecue grill from the burned-out house Aug. 15-16.
A resident called Fort Worth police the morning of Aug. 16 after seeing someone take items from the home and drive away. The caller wrote down a license plate number, and police stopped Young a few blocks from the scene.
The washer and dryer reportedly didn’t work, and the pipes were in a pile of debris on the driveway. The grill, which had a burned-out bottom, was near the garage.
Tomerlin said Young drives several old pickups, which break down all the time. “He drives different ones, so maybe someone saw him that one morning in a different pickup and called police,” she said.
Bill Wilson, who lives in the Hallmark neighborhood, said Young’s arrest surprised him.
“I’ve never had a problem with him,” said Wilson, who has known Young for 10 years. “Years ago, he walked up to me and introduced himself to me and said, ‘I’m Ray, the Junkman.’ ”
Wilson said Young has picked up bicycle parts in the neighborhood and assembled complete bicycles and given them to neighborhood kids.
“I’m a member of Code Blue Patrol, and if I’m out and see a freezer on the curb, I’ll call Ray,” Wilson said. “You have to hurry to get that stuff because there are other guys who pick up junk.”
Young, who had never been arrested before, did not enter the burned-out home.
“He’s a pillar of the community,” said Hallmark resident Roy Teal, who has known Young for 13 years. “Mr. Ray deals with commodities.”
Teal said “Mr. Ray” has never been a problem in the neighborhood.
“I don’t know how this misunderstanding happened to him,” Teal said. “Stealing is not part of his character.”