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Police arrested a Forrest City man in connection with the slaying of a former minister after, police said, the man crashed the victim's car during a pursuit.

Larry Watts, 34, is being held in the St. Francis County jail in Forrest City on a parole violation while state police officers investigate the death of Arnold Gwathney, 78, of Forrest City, state police spokesman Liz Chapman said Tuesday.

Authorities found Gwathney on the floor of a bedroom in his Hicky Street home in Forrest City on Sunday afternoon and sent his body to the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock to determine the cause of death.

Relatives checked on Gwathney after Brinkley police responded to a robbery of a Family Dollar store on North Main Street in the Monroe County town at about 11 a.m. Sunday. Chapman said officers learned the robbery suspect was driving a 2009 Toyota sedan that was licensed to Gwathney.

Officers spotted the vehicle on U.S. 79 south of Brinkley and gave pursuit. Chapman said the driver, identified as Watts, lost control of the car and crashed. He fled on foot, evading officers, she said.

An Arkansas Game and Fish Commission special agent apprehended Watts shortly thereafter, Chapman said.

Chapman said investigators believe Watts stole the car from Gwathney.

Officials at police departments in Brinkley and Forrest City said they could not comment on the homicide and robbery because it was an ongoing investigation led by state police.

Gwathney was a retired minister and former press room manager of the Forrest City Times-Herald newspaper. Publisher Tamara Johnson said Gwathney retired from the newspaper in 2004.

Gwathney also was a member of Oak Hill Church of God in Forrest City where he taught an adult Sunday school class.

"He was a godly man," Oak Hill Pastor Patrick Turner said. "He was very knowledgeable. He was a kind and gentle man who loved the Lord, and it shows."

Tucker said Gwathney had called the church Saturday to say he planned to visit his son and would not be able to teach the Sunday school class. When Gwathney did not attend services after the class, church members became worried about his welfare.

After police found Gwathney's body, members met at the church Sunday evening to talk about him and to pray for his family, Tucker said.

"We opened the church so everyone could come together," he said. "I tried to explain what happened. We are all in shock. He taught faithfully. This is very tough for us."

Chapman said state police are continuing their investigation of the homicide, vehicle theft and robbery. She said officials will turn a criminal file over to Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long of Forrest City, whose circuit includes St. Francis and Monroe counties, for consideration of criminal charges once the investigation is completed.

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State Desk on 10/18/2017

Print Headline: Police detain suspect in slaying; Forrest City man accused of using victim’s car in robbery

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