Article Comment 

Fire investigators eye cigarette, wiring


Tim Pratt



Investigators still haven''t determined a cause of the Dec. 28 blaze that killed nine people at Academy Crossing Apartments, but a Wednesday meeting among fire officials, electrical engineers and others could change that.  


Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann traveled to Jackson today to meet with the state fire marshal''s office. He will be back in Starkville for a meeting Wednesday with private insurance investigators, engineers and other fire officials to try to figure out the cause of the blaze.  


"We are going to hopefully have our final meeting in regards to establishing a cause on Wednesday," Mann said Monday. "We''re going to be able to get together and hopefully it will be, ''I''m going to defeat your cause or I''m going to prove my cause,'' back and forth until we can straighten it out." 


State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney said authorities have narrowed down the cause of the fire. Chaney told The Clarion-Ledger on Monday that electrical engineers at State Farm examined what remained of the apartment and probably will rule out an electrical fire. He says that leaves a smoldering cigarette left on a chair as the likely cause.  


State Chief Deputy Fire marshal Rick Davis said today that there isn''t an official determination, and his office is still looking at electrical systems. 


Monday marked the two weeks since the fire that killed India Williams, 25, and her three children, Jacorian Vasser, 6, Richard Vasser Jr., 5, and Kamarion Williams, 2; Castella Maria Bell, 18, and her three children, Ta''Nayia Bell, 4, Jayvion Bell, 3, and Sumaya Bell, 6 months; and Lakesha Gillespie, 20. 


According to Mann, it is common for fire investigations to last weeks or months at a time.  


"We''ve had other fires that took a lot longer to figure out," Mann said. "We have fires where the investigation goes on and on and on, and the public, you kind of forget about it because it was no major deal, but we still work on them. We''re not working this fire any different than any other fire. We just won''t take ''No'' for an answer as a cause. This is not uncommon for us at all to take this long." 


The group Wednesday will look at evidence collected from the scene, witness statements, burn patterns and other items, Mann said. 


Mann hopes the electrical engineers will be able to solve some of the questions residents of Academy Crossing have raised about possible faulty wiring. 


"He may be able to answer some of these questions we have out there," Mann said.  


Mann compared a fire investigation to a puzzle.  


"Every time you find a piece, you''re one piece closer," Mann said. "I always say that in every puzzle you have three or four golden nuggets that are critical pieces in the puzzle. Until we can find more of those, it''s just dragging. It''s not a dead-end investigation by any means. We''re just at one of those points where it''s hard to put things together. We''re just going to basically review stuff (Wednesday) from the beginning all the way through." 


According to Mann, investigators have narrowed the starting point of the fire down to a 50-square-foot space in the living room. Six of the victims'' bodies were found in a bedroom in the back of the apartment, two were in a bathroom and one was in the kitchen. The apartment had no back door.  


Since autopsies performed on India Williams, Castella Bell and Gillespie revealed the three died of smoke inhalation, Oktibbeha County Coroner Michael Hunt didn''t order autopsies on the six children.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment betty ann robetson commented at 1/12/2010 9:03:00 PM:



Article Comment TC commented at 1/13/2010 5:26:00 AM:

The cause of the fire is no more important than figuring out WHY all nine people perished. Six were in the bedroom, two in the bathroom, and one in the kitchen at~4:30 AM. Now why didn't the smoke alarm(s) wake up at least one of the adults or one of the older children in time to get everyone out? "Officials" say the smoke detectors were functioning, but when? I can't believe nine people could ignore a smoke alarm.


Article Comment Casual observer commented at 1/13/2010 8:27:00 AM:

Not sure where you're getting your information, but nobody has determined whether or not the smoke detector in the apartment was working. Pieces of it were found, but that's it.


Article Comment frankiebird commented at 1/13/2010 11:02:00 PM:

There was only one entrance/exit door to the apartment. I would assume it was in the den, so it makes sense there was no way out since that is where the fire started. Maybe if there was a working fire alarm, they were awakened but they could not escape through the den door so they retreated to bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, etc and were overcome by smoke.


Article Comment TC commented at 1/14/2010 1:56:00 AM:

Casual observer, with all due respect, there was an article in one of the online newspapers or TV stations stating the smoke alarms were working. I wish I had saved the URL for proof.


Article Comment WantingPeace commented at 1/14/2010 7:28:00 PM:

with all due respect. The article was also corrected it wasn't know if the smoke detectors were working bc the people next door never heard them go off they were awakened by the smell of smoke. Reading one article doesn't mean you have all the facts. That same article listed 2 of victims sisters as friends of the family. There have been many mistakes written. So until you have spoken with someone who was there first hand, or talked with a family member then you don't have all the facts. And the fire started at the entrance, which left them trapped. I will be so glad when everyone stops forming opinions without facts and let my friends, and cousin rest!!


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