Cause of fatal fire still under investigation

December 31, 2009 11:52:00 AM

Tim Pratt -

 

STARKVILLE -- Fire officials are still trying to determine what caused a Monday morning blaze that killed nine people at Academy Crossing Apartments. 

 

Starkville Fire Department investigators and the state Fire Marshal have gone over the scene, located on Louisville Street, just south of Academy Road, but a private insurance company investigator was at the complex Wednesday to further review the site, SFD Chief Rodger Mann said.  

 

"We''re working with him now," Mann said Wednesday afternoon. "We want to know that when we make a call (about the cause), we''re making a correct call. Something like this needs to move at a very slow pace so we know we''re correct. We haven''t made (a determination of the cause) and I don''t think we''re going to be able to reach one today." 

 

"We just want to make sure that when we identify the cause, we''ve identified the right cause," Mann added.  

 

Mann did say there was "nothing suspicious" about the fire that killed India Williams, 25, and her three children, Jacorian Vasser, 6, Richard Vasser Jr., 5, and Kamorian Williams, 2; Castella "Maria" Bell, 18, and her three children, Ta''Nayia Bell, 4, Jayvion Bell, 3, and Sumaya Bell, 6 Months; and 20-year-old Lakesha Gillespie. The investigation continued today. 

 

Oktibbeha County E-911 received a report of a fire at Academy Crossing Monday at 4:36 a.m. Frisco Lyon and his fiancee, Chassel Jenkins, were asleep in their residence next-door to Apartment 7, where the fire started, and were awoken by the smell of smoke and the screaming of the six children trapped inside. 

 

Lyon kicked in the door to Apartment 7, but was unable to enter more than two feet, he estimated, because of the smoke and heat from the flames. The couple attempted to use fire extinguishers from their apartment and from a downstairs neighbor''s place, but neither worked, Jenkins said. 

 

By the time firefighters arrived, Apartment 7 was full of smoke and flames, Mann said. The nine people inside died of smoke inhalation, according to a coroner''s ruling released Tuesday.  

 

The fire started in the living room, Mann said, and the apartment had no back door to allow residents to escape. Six of the victims were found in a bedroom, two were in a bathroom and one was in the kitchen, Mann said. 

 

Only two other apartments in the building were occupied -- one by Lyon and Jenkins, and the other by a family of four who lived downstairs.  

 

The Oktibbeha County chapter of the American Red Cross is paying for motel rooms for the two families tonight and another motel has volunteered to put the displaced residents up for free for another "couple nights," Oktibbeha County Red Cross Director Becky Wilkes said. She didn''t name the locations of the families. 

 

West Memorial Funeral Home is handling the victims'' arrangements, but had no released times, dates or locations for services as of Wednesday evening. 

 

 

 

HOW TO HELP 

 

DONATIONS: Residents displaced by the fire are being aided by the Oktibbeha County chapter of the American Red Cross. To donate, donate to, send funds and other items to 100 Felix Long Drive, Starkville, MS 39759, or call 662-323-4621.