MIDDLEBURG, Fla. - A Clay County man is behind bars after police say he tried to burn down a neighbor's home on purpose.
Michael John Hicks, 27, was arrested early Monday morning for arson and six counts of attempted murder.
Police say he used gasoline to start a fire near two propane tanks at a home on Plankton Avenue.
Charles McMillan was one of three adults and three children inside the home when the fire began. McMillan says Hicks was visiting earlier in the evening, but after a few drinks he became belligerent and was told to leave.
"We said you have to go, it's getting out of hand. So he left, then he came back, then he left and he came back again."
By 1 a.m., everyone inside the home was asleep except for 17-year-old Phillip Vaughn. Vaughn was playing on the computer when he smelled smoke coming from a bedroom where his mother and 9-year-old brother were sleeping.
"I screamed at all of them to get up, and I was checking everything electrical to find out where it was coming from."
Moments later, Vaughn and McMillan realized flames were outside below the bedroom window, and just five feet away from two full propane tanks.
Vaughn worked to put out the fire and went back inside. He then opened the front door to let the smoke out of the house. When he did, he says Hicks walked inside and told the family they should be thankful and took credit for putting the fire out.
Police say Hicks was later found watching the investigation from behind a nearby tree.
A K9 alerted police to gasoline at the point of the fire, and a can found in the backyard. They also found evidence on Hicks' hands and shoes, which police say he tried to remove while in custody.
Both Vaughn and McMillan say the Hicks family lives three houses away and the two families have been close for many years. McMillan tells Action News that Hicks recently moved in with his parents, and he was unaware of Hicks' violent past.
Action News found Hicks has 14 prior charges in Clay County dating back to 2004 including arson, burglary, disorderly intoxication and aggravated assault.
"I thought I knew him, but this is a different side of him that I've never seen," said Vaughn.
McMillan says the two families have been in touch throughout the day, and while he doesn't believe Hicks was aware of his actions, he should be held responsible.
"I never imagined something like this, especially when there are kids inside."
Hicks is due in court Tuesday morning.