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Man Is Killed in Arson Blaze

Crime: Double amputee is found in his bedroom. Two neighbors are detained for questioning.

November 29, 2001|ANICA E. BUTLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 72-year-old double amputee was killed in a fire that was intentionally set at his home early Wednesday, and his death is being investigated as a homicide.

About the same time that the Los Angeles Fire Department received a call about the blaze, a neighbor of the man called the Los Angeles Police Department to report a prowler.

LAPD Det. Tom Murrell suggested that the neighbor might have heard the arsonist or arsonists leaving the scene.

The victim, who has yet to be identified publicly, had no legs. He died in his bed, authorities said.

On Wednesday afternoon, two neighbors were being detained for questioning by police, Murrell said. The two created "reasonable suspicion" when they gave what Murrell called conflicting and suspicious stories.

At 2:47 a.m., the Fire Department received a call about a blaze at 2419 S. Cochran Ave., near West Washington Boulevard.

The firefighters found the front of the home consumed by flames, said fire Capt. Steve Ruda. The blaze was extinguished 20 minutes later. Upon a search of the home, the man's body was found in a bedroom at the front, investigators said.

It is unclear whether the firefighters knew that he was inside the house when they arrived. Apparently, some of the victim's neighbors were unaware of his presence.

"I didn't even know he was in there," said Mike Palmer, who lives across the street and a couple houses down from the victim. "I never saw him."

Another neighbor said she sometimes saw the man sitting in his wheelchair by the front window.

Dog Sniffs Out Flammable Liquids

A dog with the Fire Department's arson investigation team detected flammable liquids in multiple places in the house, Ruda said, prompting a call to LAPD homicide detectives. Further tests were being conducted to confirm whether accelerants were used.

The house had an iron gate in front of the door that slowed firefighters' entry, but the man was probably already beyond saving when they arrived, Ruda said.

Authorities have a preliminary identification of the victim but did not release it publicly. Because of the severity of his burns, the coroner's office will probably use dental records to confirm the identity, said spokesman Scott Carrier.

The fire caused $55,000 worth of damage to the pink stucco home and its contents, said Fire Department spokesman Jim Wells.

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