Article Comment 

Fire dept. says he’ll release cause of fatal fire


Tim Pratt



The Starkville Fire Department plans to release an official cause of the fatal Academy Crossing Apartments fire by the end of the week, Chief Rodger Mann said Tuesday. 


Mann told the Starkville Board of Aldermen Tuesday night he plans to meet with City Attorney Chris Latimer within the next few days, though he would not elaborate on what the pair will discuss, and hopes to release his theory on the cause of the blaze later this week. 


"At this time, I need to have a conversation with the city attorney and hope to be able to bring this to a conclusion by the end of the week," Mann said. 


Mann addressed aldermen Tuesday night after Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins called him before the board to ask why, after 50 days, the Starkville Fire Department still had not determined what caused the fatal fire on Dec. 28, 2009. 


The State Fire Marshal''s Office on Feb. 1st ruled the Academy Crossing blaze "accidental" and eliminated multiple causes of the fire, with the exception of "smoking-related materials." However, Mann in the past two weeks repeatedly has said Starkville fire officials were still investigating the blaze and was leery to release a possible cause. 


"I have seen news reports from some bureaucrats away from here indicating that the cause of the fire may be a cigarette or what-have-you, but you''re the fire chief and this is your town, this is your fire department," Perkins said to Mann. "Of course, I''m not trying to get involved in your investigation, but I''m bringing this here now because every time I turn around there are constituents and others who are asking me about it. So, either we know the cause of the fire or we don''t know the cause of the fire. We need to put this thing to rest as soon as we can." 




Other business 


Shortly after Mann spoke to the board Tuesday night, Oktibbeha County Red Cross Director Becky Wilkes went before aldermen to update the group on how the Red Cross spent the funds donated by the community to the Academy Crossing victims and their families.  


According to Wilkes, the Red Cross received $37,455 in donations for the Academy Crossing relief effort. Of those funds, $31,244 was spent on services for victims of the fire, including funerals and grave stones for the three women and six children who died, rent for a couple who was displaced by the fire, and reimbursement to one of the victim''s families for clothing, among other things. 


Vernon West, owner of West Memorial Funeral Home, gave the Red Cross a "wonderful discount" and buried the nine victims for a $28,575, Wilkes said.  


"For nine funerals, that is an excellent price," Wilkes said. "If you''ve had to deal with a funeral price lately, you''d know how much of a deal that is. (West) worked very hard to make that happen." 


The Dec. 28th Academy Crossing fire and another blaze at the complex earlier this month, during which nobody was injured, had Ward 7 resident Alvin Turner concerned. 


"The citizens are on edge," Turner said during the meeting''s public comment period. "If (these apartments) can''t be brought up to code, you need to condemn the whole complex." 


"Every time you turn around there''s another fire," Turner added. "The citizens are very concerned that lightning could strike twice."  


The Dec. 28th fire at Academy Crossing began in the living room of Apartment E7 around 4:30 a.m. Investigators have agreed it most likely began in a chair. 


Killed in the blaze were 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, neighbors said.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment concerned citizen commented at 2/17/2010 4:15:00 PM:

So what was the other $6,211 that was raised used for??


Article Comment Gijane commented at 2/18/2010 10:48:00 AM:

That's what I'd like to know because the people gave the money because of the lost of life and displacement of the other in this duplex.I think the money should have been given for the other people to have a place to live and the things they need for living. It was so very Sweet for West to do the funerals at that price God bless him,he should find a way to give back to Our community. Thanks West


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