Blast blamed on the man who died in it

March 31, 1993|By Bill Talbott | Bill Talbott,Staff Writer

The state fire marshal's office said yesterday that William Lesser caused his own death in a Jan. 18 fire-explosion that destroyed four apartments in a converted Mount Airy barn.

Bob Thomas, deputy chief state fire marshal, said that conclusion was based on a 2 1/2 -month investigation of the explosion and fire by fire marshals and the Frederick County sheriff's office.

Mr. Thomas said Mr. Lesser, 58, apparently saturated his bedroom area and other rooms in his apartment with gasoline, and he was consumed by the ensuing explosion and fire when the gasoline was ignited.

The fire destroyed the converted bank barn, which was built against an embankment in the 4800 block of Westwind Drive.

Investigators determined that Mr. Lesser, who had lived in the apartment for three years, apparently cut phone wires to the dwelling and the landlord's home 100 yards away. Wire cutters matching markings on the telephone wires were found in the victim's clothing. Mr. Thomas said in a statement that investigators believe the victim was motivated by disputes with the three other tenants of the apartment building and with landlord Strahil Nacev.

Mr. Nacev denied having any tenant dispute, but he said that Mr. Lesser "did act in a strange manner" by covering the windows of his apartment with cardboard. He said Mr. Lesser "often went to yard sales and bought things he did not need, and had enough used tires to last him until the year 2000."

"He seemed to like living here on the farm, and at times was very friendly with us, but did make one or two complaints over a parking place near the barn," Mr. Nacev said. "He also made a complaint about the tenant in the apartment over him, but that was some time back."

Bjan Koshky, who lived in one apartment, described the victim as "a very weird guy." He said he saw Mr. Lesser only two or three times and had no dispute with him. Mr. Koshky said he still suffers from rib injuries received when he was blown out of the building by the explosion, "and I still have nightmares."

Investigators said tires on vehicles belonging to the landlord and the other apartment tenants had been punctured, apparently to prevent anyone from going for help. Authorities found the victim's car a quarter-mile away.

"We're pretty confident he wanted to kill the other tenants, and it's a strange twist of fate that he [Mr. Lesser] got it and the others didn't," Frederick County Sheriff Carl Harbaugh said yesterday. "He started to build a fire and it backfired on him."

Two other tenants of the dwelling, David Conners, 66, and Keith Hubble, 32, escaped the explosion, apparently with only minor injuries.

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