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Woman arrested in 'The Senator' tree fire

2:22 PM, Feb 29, 2012   |    comments
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Sara Barnes


WINTER PARK, Fla. (WKMG) - A 26-year-old Seminole County woman was arrested Tuesday in the fire that destroyed the oldest pond cypress tree in the world -- The Senator -- at Big Tree Park in Longwood.

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services arrested Sara Barnes on charges of intentional burning of land, a third-degree felony. 

Barnes also faces drug charges from Seminole County Sheriff's Office based on what was found during a search of her home. She is being charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and possession of drug paraphernalia.

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Deputies also arrested Jodi Hill, 41, on charges of possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. Both Hill and Barnes were booked into Seminole County Jail. It's not clear if she was involved with 'The Senator' incident.

The Senator, a historic, 3,500-year-old cypress tree, burned and collapsed in mid-January.

Two tips from Crimeline led the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to arrest  Barnes, authorities said.  Tipsters said Barnes had taken cellphone pictures of the fire in the progress and uploaded them to her laptop, officials said. 

Deputies and agents served a search warrant Tuesday at her home near Winter Park. They seized a cellphone and a laptop, which are still being processed to see if the photos of the fire can be retrieved, according to authorities.

Barnes told authorities that she and a friend were inside the hollow tree on the early morning of Jan. 16 and lit a fire so they could see better.

The tree, named after Florida Sen. M. O. Overstreet, who in 1927 donated the property on which the landmark sits, was about 120 feet tall and its trunk had a diameter of nearly 18 feet.  The tree was the main attraction in the park, which was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929.

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