July 17, 1986, was a rough day for the Lawrence firefighter community, as one of their own was killed while fighting a fire.
Now, current and retired firefighters and other law enforcement officers are fighting to keep the man responsible for setting that fire in the Kansas prison system as long as possible.
“He has never said he’s sorry, never apologized, never shown any remorse,” Jim Davies, a former Lawrence firefighter, told two members of the Kansas Parole Board on Friday morning in Topeka.
David Winebrenner pleaded no contest to first-degree murder for setting the fire that killed firefighter Mark Blair, a seven-year veteran of the local fire department and the first firefighter to die in the history of the department, which was formed in 1859. Blair was killed when a roof beam collapsed on him while he was searching for occupants during a house fire at 3028 Rimrock Drive.
“The result is tragic,” said Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Mark Bradford. “It is something that in the fire service we don’t take lightly; neither do the courts.”
Winebrenner — who was 21 at the time — set fire to his parent’s home while they were sleeping inside. He received a life sentence for first-degree murder in October 1987, but comes up for parole from time to time. His father said he started the fire because he was angry about not being able to drive the family’s new truck.
He’s eligible to be released from the prison system in June. Kansas Parole Board members Robert Sanders and Patricia Biggs heard comments from the public Friday morning in Topeka. Chairman Paul Feleciano was absent.
“We were in this house to search for victims and Mark lost his life,” Lawrence firefighter Doug Green told the parole board.
The three-member board will meet with Winebrenner on May 11 and issue a decision by the first part of June on whether Winebrenner, now 44, will be released from the prison system in June.
“Anyone who takes the life of someone in emergency services should be held to the highest standards,” Lawrence Police Capt. Dan Ward told the board. “Twenty-three years is not it. We strongly oppose the parole.”
Winebrenner was denied parole in 2006 and has been at various Kansas penitentiaries since being sentenced, prison records said.
Last August, he was transferred to the Wichita Work Release Center, a minimum-security prison in which inmates are required to maintain full-time employment in the community and are allowed to leave confinement to perform their jobs. The institution works to prepare inmates for release into society, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections’ Web site.
In the past, Winebrenner’s parents, who escaped the fire, have supported their son’s release from prison. They did not appear at Friday’s parole board public comment session, as they did in 2006. The public also has the opportunity to address the board Monday in Kansas City and Wednesday in Wichita.