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Woman found dead in motel fire in Athens; boyfriend charged

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A woman was found dead in a motel fire early Monday morning in Athens, and police said they have arrested her boyfriend in connection with the incident. But officials have not yet ruled on the cause of her death

Hours later the woman was identified as Anita Dantzer Watson, 34, of North Burson Avenue in Bogart, according to Athens-Clarke County police.

They have charged the woman’s boyfriend, Richard McGaha, 34, also of Bogart, with second-degree criminal damage to property, police said. McGaha allegedly started the fire, but police have not released a motive for the crime.

The investigation began shortly before 1 a.m. when officers responded to America’s Best Inn at 2715 Atlanta Hwy. after getting a report of a fire, police spokeswoman Hilda Sorrow said. While firefighters battled the blaze, officers went door to door, evacuating occupants, she said.

Firefighters were checking the unit when they found the woman’s body, Sorrow said. Her room on the second floor had been fully engulfed in flames and was completely destroyed, police said.

McGaha was the one who told officials that his girlfriend was in the room, according to a police incident report. Police did not say how McGaha allegedly started the fire.

Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson said Watson suffered burns, but it was not immediately clear if that was the cause of death, according to the Athens-Banner Herald.

The victim’s body was taken to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab for an autopsy and postmortem examination, police said.

Wilson, who was at the fire scene, said it was fortunate that there were no additional victims, the paper reported.

“The room was gutted,” he said. “It was a really big fire, with flames coming out of the roof. We’re lucky we didn’t have a bigger problem than we did. The firefighters did a real good job.”

McGaha, who was being held without bond at the Clarke County Jail, has served several state prison sentences for convictions on drug and burglary offenses in Clarke and Oconee counties, the paper reported.