Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Birthday cards may have sparked blaze

February 23, 2006


A former foster child charged with setting a deadly apartment fire told police that on the night of the fire he was angry about receiving a box full of birthday cards and photographs from his parents.

So, Jason A. Rose told police, he set the box on fire on an outdoor balcony area of his Boardwalk Apartments building in the 500 block of Fireside Drive.

That's according to police testimony Wednesday at Rose's preliminary hearing in Douglas County District Court. Prosecutors allege the result was a terrifying fire that burned a blocklong building, killed three people and injured many more who were burned or hurt jumping to safety.

Evidence presented Wednesday included a recording of 911 calls in which trapped residents could be heard screaming for help.

"It looked like an inferno. It looked like hell on earth," said Dawn Davis, one of five injured survivors who testified Wednesday.

The fire - which killed Kansas University student Nicole Bingham, electrician Jose Gonzalez and social worker Yolanda Riddle - was first reported around 1:15 a.m. Friday, Oct. 7.

Assistant dist. attys. Amy McGowan, left, and David Melton prepare to play a tape of a recording of 911 calls to police dispatch on the night of the Oct. 7 fire that destroyed a building at Boardwalk Apartments in the 500 block of Fireside Drive. A preliminary hearings for Jason Rose, charged with first-degree murder, began Wednesday in Douglas County District Court.

Assistant dist. attys. Amy McGowan, left, and David Melton prepare to play a tape of a recording of 911 calls to police dispatch on the night of the Oct. 7 fire that destroyed a building at Boardwalk Apartments in the 500 block of Fireside Drive. A preliminary hearings for Jason Rose, charged with first-degree murder, began Wednesday in Douglas County District Court.

Wednesday was the first day evidence from the case had been made public, as prosecutors try to prove there's enough evidence to try the 20-year-old Rose for charges including first-degree murder.

Lawrence Police Detective Troy Squire testified that after the fire, investigators began interviewing eyewitnesses - asking them what direction the fire moved, what floor it was on first, whether they smelled anything. Squire said he went to meet Rose at work at a fast-food restaurant two days after the fire, once police learned Rose was one of the first people who had called 911.

In that interview, Rose said he'd been in his ground-floor apartment on the north end of the building about 1 a.m. when he heard a commotion and went outside, Squire testified. Rose said he looked down to the far south end of the building, saw the fire on the uppermost floor and noticed it spreading toward his end of the building.

Squire said it seemed unlikely to him that Rose would have been able to see that from the opposite corner of the building. Also, it didn't fit with the picture emerging from crime-scene evidence that the fire appeared to have started in the middle of the building and spread outward, he said.

Squire said he later looked into Rose's background and found he'd been arrested in 2003 for stealing lighters from a local hardware store. Squire and an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arranged to have a follow-up interview with Rose the next day.

Story changes

On that day, Squire said, he received information from the state's Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services that Rose had once been in trouble for setting a wastebasket on fire while in foster care.

In an interview Monday, Oct. 10, at the police department's west-side station, Squire confronted Rose about his record. Squire said Rose initially denied ever having set fires or having been in trouble for stealing lighters, then eventually admitted setting about 20 fires.

Squire said he told Rose it didn't look good that he had lied about his past. Shortly after that, Squire said, Rose began making confessions.

"Jason ends up telling us that he started a fire on a balcony near a railing with a piece of paper at Boardwalk Apartments the night of the fire," Squire said.

First, Rose said he was angry because a man named "Stan" had wanted him to buy marijuana and that he'd burned a piece of paper with the man's phone number on it, Squire testified. Rose said the paper caught a wooden railing on fire, and that he tried to put it out with a rug but that the rug caught fire.

Rose said he then went back to his apartment to watch TV. When Squire told him that didn't make sense, Rose ended the interview about 10:15 p.m.

Later that night, he was arrested and booked into the Douglas County Jail.

Angry at family

The next morning, Squire testified, he went to the jail to interview Rose, who again denied starting the Boardwalk fire.

Squire said he told Rose a lie: That a scientific test had shown a little piece of paper didn't start the fire. Eventually, Squire said, Rose said he'd been angry that night about receiving a box that contained birthday cards and photographs from his mother and father. Squire said Rose had been abused physically and sexually as a child, and that he didn't want to see his father again.

Rose told police he'd set the box on fire outside a second-floor apartment near the center of the building, but it wasn't explained why he would have gone there to light the box on fire.

Injured testify

Other witnesses Wednesday included Lawrence Police Officer David Ernst, the first officer who arrived at the scene. He testified he'd been in the complex about 1:15 a.m. on an unrelated call but hadn't seen a fire, but that he returned minutes later and saw the building blazing.

Coroner Erik Mitchell testified about identifying the bodies of Riddle, Bingham and Gonzalez.

In addition to murder, Rose is charged with eight counts of aggravated battery. Some of the victims who survived the fire testified about running through fire or jumping out of their windows to escape.

"I was suffocating pretty bad. I thought I was going to die," said Raju Ahmed, who broke his leg after jumping out his back window.

At least four people attended the hearing to support Rose, including Russ Beeson, who knows Rose from attending Victory Bible Church. Beeson said he thought Rose had been "railroaded" and that he didn't think Rose set the fire.

"It's just not in his character," Beeson said.

Rose supporters were not among those who testified Wednesday.

Testimony is expected to resume this morning.


Confrontation 12 years, 1 month ago

"It's just not in his character," Beeson said.

Leave to someone from a church to defend this murderer. How was it not his character when he was busted for stealing lighters and admitted to starting 20 other fires? Yeah, that's railroading.

Centrist 12 years, 1 month ago

I don't buy it. If you set a box on fire on your OWN balcony in your OWN apartment, I'm fairly certain you would NOTICE if it got out of control. And of course he got out when some others didn't? This doesn't make sense, from a logical standpoint.

trinity 12 years, 1 month ago

perhaps a grudge against the social worker who perished? wonder which unit she lived in...

and no, it wouldn't have had to been a personalized attack on her as she likely was not his caseworker; just social workers in general. wonder if anybody has explored that angle...hope so.

Jamesaust 12 years, 1 month ago

"First, Rose said he was angry because a man named "Stan" had wanted him to buy marijuana and that he'd burned a piece of paper with the man's phone number on it. Rose said the paper caught a wooden railing on fire, and that he tried to put it out with a rug but that the rug caught fire. Rose said he then went back to his apartment to watch TV."

I knew someone a few years back who did some temp job in town grading (I believe it was) Texas fourth-grader narratives. To the extent that the quote is a fair representation of Rose's statements, this seems very familiar to the stories I was told about how many fourth-graders relate stories. I wonder if the defense will use this as a means of showing a diminished mental capacity.

One thing seems more clear - the foster care system should have been able to identify the fact that this guy was not prepared to deal with the world on his own but didn't give him the assistence he would have needed. And now people are dead. I don't want to say Rose isn't a least partially (if not fully) responsible for his actions. But I wonder if some of the victims are going to be filing a civil lawsuit against the State.

Christine Anderson 12 years, 1 month ago

I just need please to say one thing to Confrontation.

I sort of understand where your comment of "leave it to someone from a church".... may come from. Like myself, you probably are sick to death of so-called church folk being hypocrates.( spelling?) I know the gentleman whose remark was quoted. I truly don't think he is deliberately turning a blind eye; no, that would be more like the top of the leadership rung there. I believe it hurts too much to fathom that once AGAIN, someone from that particular church has been charged with something unimaginably horrible.

I suspect Confrontation, like many, many of us, is simply waiting to see someone genuine in practice. But please, sir or madam, know that not all of us are phonies. That includes the very kind-spirited Mr. Beeson. Thank You.

ben_ness 12 years, 1 month ago

Something just doesn't add up to me. The LJW is not publishing all of the details of this fire or the DA and LPD are with holding information. From a layman's perspective of the Law it has always been my understanding that to charge an individual with murder they have to have evidence showing the accused knowingly and willfully took the live of another individual. I would imagine the definition of the criteria for what Murder is may change a bit when it is a result of Arson but I just haven't seen any information in the articles stating implicitly from either party that Rose set the fire intentionally with the intent to harm others. He should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for the loss of life, injuries, and damage to property, etc. But it sounds to me like this kid belongs in a hospital and not a prison.

robinrander 12 years, 1 month ago

If you committ an inherently dangerous felony (like arson), and in the process a person dies, you will be charged with felony murder. It doesn't matter if your intent was to kill the person. As long as you committed the felony, you are responsible.

ben_ness 12 years, 1 month ago

robinrander - Thank you for the clarification. As you saw in my statement I wasn't sure if Arson, tied to Murder, changed the definition.

Ragingbear 12 years ago

The officer was there at 1:15? As a victim of that fire, I can honestly say that at 1:15 I was outside, watching all my stuff going up in flames, and wondering if everyone made it out ok. That officer is covering his rear on something.

LovelyAngel315 12 years ago

I live in Boardwalk apartments in a different building and saw the fire. I woke up at 1:18am to someone banging on the door and that building was completely up in flames by then. I don't know how the officer could've missed it.

Also, I know Jason and it was not in his character. But that's not to say he did or didn't do it. I've decided not to form an opinion on this one. Let just wait and see what the evidence brings up. I know Mr. Beeson too and he's a good guy.

avhjmlk 12 years ago

Remember, that cop said "about 1:15 am." I think all of us would do well to remember that, unless all of the timepieces we use are atomic clocks, his wristwatch may have said 1:15, but it may have really only been 1:10. Or, maybe the direction from which he approached the complex at around 1:15 would have not allowed him to see any flames, but, by the time he left, they were probably out of control and impossible to miss.

Just wondering...

Jamesaust 12 years ago

robinrander is correct. Earlier LJW articles were more careful to note that Rose is chaged with felony murder but as of late is has simply become murder.

Interestingly, felony murder as it exists in most states, can be applied regardless of who dies, including one (of a group) of felons. For example, if two men conspire to rape a woman but in the process one dies (maybe the victim remembers that she has an icepick in her pocket and stabs on of the men to death), the 'surviving' felon can be charged with the death of his co-conspirator (in most states).

It can lead to some fairly bizarre (and perhaps unfair) results sometimes and is a bit controversial. For example, an accomplice who was coerced into participation might (or not) be charged with felony murder. The U.S. Supreme Court did rule maybe 20 years ago though that a state death penalty could apply to a felony murder case even where the felon did not actually commit the murder (in fact).

In Kansas these include rape, burglary, robbery, arson, kidnapping, child abuse, drug deals, and felonious escape. The feds add on for themselves terrorism and carjacking. If the felony exists in both the state and the federal criminal systems, the criminal can be tried in both without creating a double-jeopardy problem.

Felony murder has always been part of the American system and was inherited from English law. It has, however, been abolished in England.

Linda Endicott 12 years ago

I do wonder about the arson charge. Do they have to be able to prove that he intended to burn the building down to charge him with arson, and thus murder?

Seems that the story presented in court doesn't substantiate that he deliberately started the fire, or intended to burn down the building.

Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years ago

Smitty: What exactly is your point with this "unrelated call" junk? You keep bringing this up as though there is some great conspiracy going on, but you just sound like a raving lunatic.

Steve Jacob 12 years ago

I think the only way the burning pictures defence works is if you can prove Boardwalk was a fire death trap. On the other hand, the DA I am not sure can prove he meant to hurt/kill people.

So in the end 20 years, just a guess.

lonesome_breeze 12 years ago

Smitty: There was no call on Rose 20 minutes before the fire broke out. The officer that was there was on a completely unrelated matter. It had nothing to do with Rose. You no doubt have taken some cockamammy statement, that is completely with out merit, made by Jayhawk13 as gospel. When in fact it is completely unfactual. Don't you think that it would have come out in the preliminary hearing if it were true. Now you won't let it go because you think the LPD was negligent in this matter. Quite the opposite, the bravery of LPD Officers as well as others such as the deputies from the DGSO helped save lives. There was no negligence on behalf of the LPD only bravery. Let it go.

Ragingbear 12 years ago

To the person who defended the officer's statement about the time, and saying that the wristwatch may have been off, I say this:

First of all, police policy is that you synch your time pieces so that reports are consistant when they go to court. Police constantly file reports, and a statement by an officer can be thrown out of court simply because of a bad time stamp. If anything, this shows that the officer was incompetant at best.

elmatador 12 years ago


First off it is Polson and not Poulson. I am just curious why you are so certain there was a domestic disturbace related to Mr. Rose prior to the fire. Do you have a copy of dispatch records? Where are you getting your information from?

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