Trailer fire that killed 2 homeless men probed Cause remains mystery

one man's throat was slashed, police say

December 27, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A fire that killed two homeless men living in an abandoned truck trailer Wednesday remained a mystery yesterday as arson investigators were still trying to determine a cause.

Police said yesterday that one of the men may have cut his throat in a suicide attempt.

Both victims died of burns and smoke inhalation. Police identified them yesterday as Timothy Franklin Smith, 42, who was pronounced dead at the scene, and John Mark Poling, 41, who died at 9: 20 p.m. Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Poling's throat had been slashed, and he suffered third-degree burns on 90 percent of his body.

Sgt. Rick James of the arson unit said both men were homeless and lived in a small abandoned trailer behind a trucking company in the 6300 block of Erdman Ave. in Southeast Baltimore.

The fire began about 7: 40 a.m., and was first spotted by two off-duty firefighters. The firefighters pulled Poling, who was on fire, from the trailer and wrapped him in blankets to extinguish the blaze.

The intense fire destroyed the trailer's interior. Police said they have sent charred remains to labs to test for flammable substances possibly used to set the fire.

Investigators first speculated that Poling's neck was injured on jagged metal in the trailer during the fire or rescue attempt. But yesterday, police were leaning toward a suicide attempt.

Detective Martin Young of the homicide unit said family members told police that Poling had previously tried to commit suicide.

Young said he is "waiting on arson to make a determination" on the cause of the fire.

"There's a whole lot of questions right now," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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