Article Comment 

State: Smoking caused fire that killed nine in Starkville


Tim Pratt



The State Fire Marshal''s office on Monday announced the December blaze that killed nine people at Academy Crossing Apartments was accidental.  


According to the Fire Marshal''s office, the fire originated in a chair in the living room of Apartment E7, where all nine people died during the early morning hours of Dec. 28. In its investigation, the Fire Marshal''s Office eliminated multiple causes of the fire, with the exception of "smoking-related materials." 


"This tragic fire and resulting loss of life is a stark reminder of the importance of knowing and practicing fire safety in the home," Commissioner of Insurance and State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney said. 


Still, Starkville Fire Department Chief Rodger Mann said the investigation is ongoing.  


"Nothing has changed for us," Mann said. "The Starkville Fire Department stands in the same position it did last week. No new information has been discovered and we are not prepared to release our findings at this point because we still haven''t concluded the investigation." 


"We still haven''t even gotten anything back from the electrical engineer," he added. 


Fire broke out around 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 28 in an apartment belonging to 25-year-old India Williams 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. 


Bell and her children recently had fallen on hard times and moved in with Williams and Gillespie, who shared the apartment, a week or two before the fire, neighbors said.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment wiseup commented at 2/2/2010 9:33:00 AM:

It plainly says on the pack that it's not good for your health.


Article Comment Zack commented at 2/2/2010 9:36:00 AM:

Well, if nobody made it out alive.. who was smoking the cigarette.. cigarettes sold now are "fire safe" meaning they are self extinguishing.. someone payed the state off.. the wiring, plumbing, etc.. in those apartments is garbage.


Article Comment topdawg commented at 2/2/2010 9:51:00 AM:

Zack, you're exactly right. As a smoker, it's nice that the cigarettes extinguish themselves within less than a minute. Having said that, I find it very hard to believe that a cigarette caused this fire. As you said, wiring, plumbing, etc. makes much more sense, not to mention 9 people living there...that's a hazard in itself since the apartments are not designed to house that many people. I'm not excusing cigarettes, but I do find it hard to believe that it caused this situation.


Article Comment Not Convinced commented at 2/2/2010 10:07:00 AM:

I agree, I honestly don't feel like a cigarette was the cause. Seems the Starkville fire chief may not be so convinced it was the cigarette either.


Article Comment KJ commented at 2/2/2010 10:34:00 AM:

The Dispatch isn't as concerned about the truth as it is eager to point the finger at cigarettes. As the chief said, ""We still haven't even gotten anything back from the electrical engineer." But the chance to bash smokers in a headline is too tempting.


Article Comment jt commented at 2/2/2010 11:27:00 AM:

The owner has a lot of influence over state and location officials. I know because my family has been victimized by her.


Article Comment Michelle commented at 2/2/2010 12:06:00 PM:

They might have not been smoking the "Safe Cigarettes" because it is not required by law as of yet so below.

The Mississippi Fire Safety Standard and Firefighter Protection Act law goes into effect on July 1, 2010. Retailers will be allowed to sell their existing inventory if the state tax stamp was affixed to the cigarettes before July 1, 2010 and they can establish the inventory was purchased prior to July 1, 2010 in comparable amount to inventory purchased the previous year. After July 1, 2010, all cigarettes sold in Mississippi must be certified fire standard compliant in accordance with SB2249.

The website is listed below


Article Comment Michelle commented at 2/2/2010 12:10:00 PM:

I also thought I should post this as well since some people don't use common sense when smoking. ie: some of the people I work with set the cigarette butt container on fire since they didn't put them out before they dropped them in there.

Please follow the following safety tips:

■Smoke outside and extinguish cigarettes in water or sand.
■Soak cigarette butts and ashes in water before throwing them away; hot cigarettes or ashes should never be tossed into a trashcan.
■In a car, use the personal ashtrays or the ashtray in your car to extinguish your cigarettes.
■Never smoke if you are tired, have had alcohol or have taken medicine or drugs that make you sleepy.
■When using ashtrays, they should be deep and sturdy and be placed on something that is hard to ignite, such as a table.
■Keep smoking materials away from things that can burn, such as sofas, chairs, beds, or clothing.
■Never smoke in a house where oxygen is in use. You should also never smoke near an oxygen source, even if it is turned off. Oxygen can be explosive and can cause a fire to burn hotter and faster.
■Cigarettes thrown from car windows can cause wild land fires that endanger people, homes, and animals


Article Comment gene commented at 2/2/2010 5:56:00 PM:

That'll teach that Fire Marshall--tell the truth and get vilified on message boards by professional deniers.


Article Comment Alix commented at 2/3/2010 12:44:00 PM:

As I understand it, the fire originated in a chair in the living room, all other causes
are eliminated with the exception of "smoking-related materials". Sounds like some people are disappointed the apartment owners are not to blame since this ruling would eliminate any chance of lawsuits. How sad such an accident should have to reminded us to be more careful and to remember we are truly blessed with each day that is given us.


Article Comment Chris commented at 2/4/2010 2:19:00 AM:

This is a tragic incidence; but we do not have all the facts, but it is still suspicious. I have no idea of the dimensions of the apartment;but there seems to have been an overcrowding situation in this instance. Also, who said it was cigarettes. Also, although cigarettes have been made safer, if ash comes in contact with other combustible material, this is possible. Let us wait for judgement on both ends. The reality is......9 lives were lost and cannot be replaced. Hopefully, after the investigation is final, something is learned to prevent an instance like this in the future.


Article Comment J.A.K. commented at 2/4/2010 7:33:00 AM:

Sounds like another Starkville cover-up to me. Four years ago I lived in the apartment right under the one that caught on fire & I know for a fact that these apartments are not up to code & the one that caught on fire hasn't been renovated since the owner has had them. I personally had wiring problems in the apartment in which I lived & nothing was done to solve them, which led to me moving out of it. The owners are slumlords who don't deserve to be let off the hook for this. This incident has left my community & the ppl of this community scarred for life. I knew a few of the victims personally, Ta Niya was one my childhood friend's daughter & one of the other kids was friends with my 6 year old son who is still getting counseling to deal with the loss of his friend. Bottom line: someone needs to finally hold these ppl responsible for their slumlord business practices! No doubt, the loss of money due to a lawsuit would be financially devastating for the owners but it pales in comparison to the devastating loss of life & impact that this has had on my community.


Article Comment Give me a break commented at 2/4/2010 9:25:00 AM:

No J.A.K., I will tell who needs to start being held responsible, those who are not responsible with their own lives. You know why those apartments have not been renovated since they were built? Because they have to be affordable to 18 year olds who started having kids when they were 14. What kind of apartment did you expect them to live in? A brand new multi-million dollar condominium with the latest in fire and safety features? Somewhere a bit nicer so that more of my tax dollars are spent on someone else so that they can be comfortable? If you have done your best and have hit a rough patch in your life, I will give you the shirt off my back. If you have multiple children by multiple fathers, and all of your friends and family want to bitch about the conditions you were living in, then I don't have much sympathy for you. As tragic as it is for the children, all these people bitching about the condition of the apartments make it hard for me to shed any tears for the adults.


Article Comment Starkville commented at 2/6/2010 3:27:00 PM:

First off i knew the people that jus passed... Only one smoked and she smoked New Ports which if u want go look at a pack THEY ARE FIRE SAFETY... Second go buy yourself a pack and put it on a pile of hay or dry grass and tell me why it won't catch fire someone please we have tried multible thing and nothing caught fire... HELLO it is a cover up and the landlord is paying lots of money for it to be covered up... And that night they only had one cig and they smoked it with my friend at my friends apt and then they went home and went to sleep... Another thing is that since starkville fire dept is trying to cover things up.. the first call call came in about 3:30 that morning and it was from inside the apt and the 911 operator that answer the phone said that the victim that was on the phone said that they were trapped and the fire was getting closer... Jus to remind people that live in Starkville or have visited Starkville and know where the apt complex is located, the Fire Dept is not even 2 mins away so why did it take so long and why when they did arrive they were not dressed and ready to help the victims... Why did Starkville Fire Dept not know where the fire hydrant was located... So maybe if Starkville Fire Dept would have been doing their job maybe some lives would have been saved... So really know facts before u comment on something... Also the family has hired their own private investigator and the truth will come out bout these sweet people that lost their lives due to slow Fire Fighters... I bet if these victims was a rich and lived in a higher class apt the fire dept would have broke their necks getting there and they would be alive today...


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