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Archive for Wednesday, January 20, 1993

FIRE PROBE FOCUSING ON ILLEGAL DRUG USE

January 20, 1993

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The investigation of a fatal arson fire early Sunday at a Lawrence apartment building is centering on allegations of drug use in the building and a report that a building tenant who moved out Saturday had threatened to burn down the building, an investigator said today.

Lawrence Fire Marshal Rich Barr said this morning that investigators were tracking down those claims but had not identified any suspects in the fire.

Two Lawrence teen-agers, LaTonya Farmer, 17, and a friend, Brandy Martin, 13, died from injuries they suffered in the blaze, which was reported at 2:44 a.m. Sunday in an apartment building at 714 W. 25th. Authorities said the fire was set in a vacant ground-floor apartment. The victims lived in a second-floor apartment.

Tim Cable, a maintenance man for the building, said today that he ran the former tenant's cousin out of the vacant apartment on Friday night because he suspected the cousin of using drugs.

Cable said he saw someone in the apartment, and he believed the man was "free-basing" cocaine, which involves flammable chemicals.

Cable said that after seeing the cousin, he asked the former tenant to remove the man.

"We had a few words," Cable said.

CABLE SAID he did not know where the tenant's cousin came from but said the cousin had been visiting the tenant from out of town.

On Tuesday, two former tenants said they had reported to police during June that the man who moved out Saturday had threatened several times to set the building on fire.

Delores Ward, a former tenant, said today that she called police when the same tenant had threatened in June to burn the place down.

"I called the police that night. I guess they didn't put it on file or whatever," she said. "Every time something happened there, it was called in."

Barr said this morning that investigators had talked to Cable and the former tenant about the incident Friday night. The former tenant's cousin, he said, had not been located or interviewed.

Barr said investigators had not identified any suspects and had no immediate plans to reinterview the former tenant.

SO FAR, Barr said, investigators have been unable to track down any information about the alleged threats. He said investigators were looking for police records about reported drug use and threats at the building.

Since Sunday, Barr said, 11 investigators have been assigned to the case. He urged anyone with information about the blaze to contact authorities at 841-0007 Ext. 171 or 1-800-KS-CRIME.

On Monday, he said, investigators received good news about two victims who were taken to the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan., after the fire.

He said one victim, Monechia Fisher, 7, was released on Monday.

Barr said LaTonya Farmer's mother, Ella Farmer, 43, remained in serious condition and would continue using a respirator until swelling in her trachea subsided.

Doctors told investigators that her condition was slowly improving, Barr said.

BARR SAID investigators were still waiting to interview Ella Farmer to get details about the fire. So far, he said, other witnesses have been able to provide little information about what happened in the second-floor apartment where the victims were staying.

Barr said Monechia was going to live with her mother, Sonia Farmer, and her sisters at a relative's house in St. Louis.

LaTonya Farmer passed Monechia's sisters Dejanelle Lockette, 2, and Tiffany Lockette, 4 out of a window before she succombed to smoke and heat.

MORE COMING....

Barr said fire investigators have estimated damage to the apartment building at $37,000. He said the building was not destroyed.

There was little structural damage, he said, and two apartments that were unoccupied when the fire started were virtually unharmed.

Firefighters said that after someone in the apartment where the victims lived tried to escape through the front door, they were turned back by heat and smoke. Someone then opened a rear window to pass the youngest children to safety.

That set up a draft that brought smoke and heat into the victims' apartment. Barr said there were no flames in the victims' apartment.

But heat was intense. Barr said plastic items such as the casing of the television set melted.

Barr said fire investigators have estimated damage to the apartment building at $37,000. He said the building was not destroyed.

There was little structural damage, he said, and two apartments that were unoccupied when the fire started were virtually unharmed.

Firefighters said that after someone in the apartment where the victims lived tried to escape through the front door, they were turned back by heat and smoke. Someone then opened a rear window to pass the youngest children to safety.

That set up a draft that brought smoke and heat into the victims' apartment. Barr said there were no flames in the victims' apartment.

But heat was intense. Barr said plastic items such as the casing of the television set melted.

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