Focus shifts to family in probe of fatal blaze Suspects released

baby showed 'abuse'

July 09, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Police have released all suspects in Tuesday's fire that killed five children in East Baltimore and are now focusing their investigation on recent problems within the family, investigators said.

The state medical examiner's office ruled yesterday that four of the five victims died of smoke inhalation. One of those four, a 1-year-old child, appeared to have been severely underfed, police said.

An autopsy on the fifth victim had not been completed last night.

A statement from the medical examiner's office yesterday on the autopsy of the 1-year-old, Gregory Cook, said the body "showed evidence of probable chronic abuse and neglect."

The office refused to comment further, but a police investigator said last night that the boy was severely undernourished and "had a body like a stick. It looked like he hadn't been fed at all."

Gregory and four other children, Damien Cook, 2 months, Takia Cook, 2, Russell Williams, 5, and Antoine Lucas, 12, died after someone set fire to their two-story rowhouse in the 2400 block of E. Eager St.

Police questioned several suspects in the fire, which investigators believe was set when someone poured a flammable liquid on the first floor. Those suspects have since been released, police said.

Because of the alleged abuse of Gregory, investigators are now trying to determine whether family problems may have been a factor in the arson, police said.

Domestic problems were reported at the home July 3, when police went to the house to investigate an assault complaint filed the mother of at least several of the children, Tonya Lucas, 28.

Ms. Lucas told a police officer that her 29-year-old husband, Tony Lucas, had beaten her "because she wouldn't give him her rent money so he could buy drugs," the police report said.

Police were unable to say last night whether Mr. Lucas was the father of any of the children.

Ms. Lucas' nose was broken and her lip was bruised, the report said. She also told the officer that her husband had beaten her in the past.

Police said they attempted to question Ms. Lucas extensively about the arson on Tuesday, but they said she refused to answer questions.

Her attorney, Jack Rubin, said last night that Ms. Lucas called him because she "felt intimidated" by rigorous questioning by police.

"She jumped out a window to escape this fire," Mr. Rubin said. "She wanted me to intercede when they began interrogating her."

Mr. Rubin said that he was told by a police detective that Ms. Lucas "is not a suspect."

Neither Ms. Lucas nor Mr. Lucas could be reached for comment last night.

A sixth child injured in the fire, Deon Cook, 3, remained in critical condition last night in the pediatric intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

When firefighters arrived at the scene of the fire, the six children were trapped on the second floor.

Most of the children are believed to have been asleep when the fire started shortly before 8:30 a.m., police said.

Ms. Lucas was able to escape the fire with an 8-year-old child and was not injured.

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