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Police: Man beat ex-wife, set house on fire over cellphone

6 people without home after fire; Ex-husband charged with arson, battery

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The ex-husband of a woman who lost her Springfield home in a fire Thursday night has been charged with beating her and setting her house on fire.

Jail records show that Eugene Howard is in jail on charges of arson, domestic battery and animal cruelty.

Police and fire rescue crews were called Thursday night to a reported assault on 16th Street near Market Street in Springfield. When they arrived around 10:30 p.m., an apartment was on fire. More units were called in, and the fire was put out in about 10 minutes.

According to his arrest report, Howard's ex-wife, who News4Jax is not naming, wouldn't let him use her cellphone, so he started punching her in the face, knocking her to the ground. She told police that he got on top of her and continued punching, but she was able to run to a neighbor's home, where she called police.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations said that Howard set the house on fire and is being charged with two counts of first-degree arson and two counts of animal cruelty, after two pets died in the fire.

The woman's brother-in-law, who lives across the street, said that she has four children between the ages of 5 and 18, and they all came running to his home for safety when the house caught fire. None of them were hurt. The woman's mother also lives in the home and was listed as a witness on Howard's arrest report.

The woman's brother-in-law, who declined to be named, said the entire situation is shocking.

“She was beaten to the point of she probably has a broken nose, lacerations on her face, she was kicked in the stomach and the chest several times,” the woman's brother-in-law said. “It finally escalated to the point where it did last night. It's a sad situation. A family of six now has no home, and nothing to turn to.”

The Red Cross is helping the family. The woman's brother-in-law said he hopes that she can come home from the hospital Friday.

From there, they will have to figure out what to do next in terms of a place to live.