2 adults, child killed in fire authorities seek ex-boyfriend

No arson evidence, but woman allegedly had been threatened

December 14, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A man just released from prison who allegedly threatened to burn down his ex-girlfriend's rowhouse was being sought for questioning last night by police after a fire early yesterday killed the woman, her boyfriend and a 2-year-old child.

Two other children, a 13-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, suffered broken bones when they jumped from a third-story window to escape the intense fire and billowing smoke, which firefighters said spread quickly throughout the narrow East Baltimore rowhouse.

"Destruction was severe," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman. "The first firefighters saw fire on the first floor and by the time they got the hose lines out, the entire house was engulfed."

Investigators from the Police Department's arson and homicide squad, state fire marshals and officials of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, spent the day at the scene in the 1800 block of Ashland Ave. searching for clues.

By yesterday evening, they had found no evidence of arson. They planned to send scorched debris for testing for an accelerant, which they say they strongly believe was used because the fire spread so fast and because of the threats the woman apparently had received.

"It's not a real obvious arson," one Fire Department source said, adding that there are no witnesses. But the source said investigators had not found anything to indicate another cause and said fires usually don't spread so quickly unless they are set intentionally.

Fire officials identified the victims as Carolyn Flowers, 34; her boyfriend, Darryl Johnson, 32; and Parrish Williams, 2, a neighborhood boy for whom the adults were baby-sitting. The three bodies were found on the floor in a front third-floor bedroom.

Two of Flowers' children, Lakisha Johnson, 13, and Eric Hicks, 11, jumped from a third-floor back bedroom to a porch roof and then to the ground. They were both in fair condition yesterday at Johns Hopkins Children's Center with broken wrists and ankles.

The deaths bring to 19 the number killed in Baltimore fires this year, the fewest since 1938, when data were first collected. In 1984, the city's worst year for fire deaths, 88 were recorded.

Police said they had been unsuccessful in their search for the former boyfriend. They stressed that he is only wanted for questioning and is not considered a suspect.

"It is not a crime yet," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman.

The man police are looking for -- whom The Sun is not naming because he has not been charged with a crime -- was convicted in September of punching and stomping his 14-year-old son. The assault occurred in the Ashland Avenue house after the youth stayed out overnight celebrating the birthday of his younger brother, Eric Hicks, in July. Fire officials said the 14-year-old was staying with friends in West Baltimore when the fire occurred.

The man was convicted of child abuse, served five months and was released last week.

Flowers' sister, Theresa Flowers, 37, said the man threatened to "burn the house down" on Ashland Avenue if Carolyn Flowers didn't date him again.

Family members gathered yesterday at a West Baltimore rowhouse to grieve and make funeral arrangements. They said Flowers, who suffered a minor stroke two years ago, was trying to find a job.

"She was trying to get her life together," said Theresa Flowers, who last saw her sister at Thanksgiving. "She was a good person. She helped her kids. She helped anybody she could."

Two days before the fire, Flowers walked into the Family Place, where counselors help troubled East Baltimore residents, and asked for assistance. "She said, 'I need a job,' " recalled the administrator, Roslyn McClain. "I gave her three applications. I was trying to help her out. She wanted anything, just to get off of welfare."

Flowers' three-story rowhouse was only one of three occupied on her block; six others were boarded up. It is owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, part of scattered-site public housing.

Fire officials said they could not determine if the house had a smoke detector; an HABC spokesman said officials found a working detector six months ago.

Relatives said Flowers kept a safe home. Eastern District Officer Keith McNeill noted in his police report on the child abuse incident that the home "was found to be in order with a very suitable living environment. "

As investigators searched the ruins in the rain yesterday, city workers boarded up the windows. What was left of Flowers' belongings made a heap of blackened debris. "There was very little left that was identifiable," Torres said.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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