River Road pharmacy fire: Grand jury indicts 2 in arson case

Lillian Dion Burkett and Kayla Price — two people linked by authorities to the River Road Pharmacy fire and an alleged insurance fraud — were indicted Tuesday by a Muscogee County grand jury.

Burkett, 50, faces indictments on charges of first-degree arson, false report of a crime, false swearing, two counts of conspiracy to commit a crime and three counts of insurance fraud.

Price, 22, was indicted on a count of insurance fraud.

Burkett, her son, Bobby Jo Burkett, 29, Michael Lowery, 30, and Misty Joiner, 29, face charges in connection with the Sept. 27, 2009, fire that gutted the pharmacy at 5100 River Road. Bobby Jo Burkett, Lowery and Joiner’s cases have not yet reached a grand jury.

Assistant District Attorney Kristy Dugan said she intends to try Lillian Burkett and Price together before a jury. After the completion of that trial, the remaining three defendants’ cases will be brought before a grand jury, she said.

Defense attorney Mark Shelnutt, who represents both Burketts, said he’s never seen a case like this have its indictments split.

“I’m just really curious to understand why it was done like this,” Shelnutt said. “I foresee it causing them problems.”

Lillian Burkett is accused in her indictment of telling her son and Lowery on Oct. 11, 2009, to take her Ford Expedition to Talbot County and burn it. Her indictment alleges that she concealed what happened to the Expedition and filed a false theft report with Columbus police.

Both Lillian Burkett and Price are accused of lying about the alleged Oct. 11, 2009, theft of Burkett’s Expedition in order to get an insurance claim. Dugan said that Price is the mother of one of Bobby Jo Burkett’s children, and that she lived with Lillian Burkett at the time of the alleged fraud.

Lillian Burkett also faces accusations that she lied about being current on her title pawn payments, on which her vehicle was collateral, and that she completed an affidavit about the theft knowing that the vehicle hadn’t been stolen.

Columbus Fire & EMS officials announced in March that the two Burketts and Lowery faced accusations in connection with the pharmacy fire. In late August, they announced Joiner as a fourth suspect who once worked for the pharmacy. Authorities issued warrants for her after interviewing her in connection with the blaze.

Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter said at the time that Joiner had sent investigators on “a wild goose chase.”