January blaze that killed 5 was not arson, city officials say Fire said to have been set, but without criminal intent

June 25, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A January fire that destroyed a Northwest Baltimore house and killed five people was not the work of an arsonist, top police officials said yesterday after a meeting with the fire chief.

"There is no evidence that the fire was set with criminal intent," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "We have not uncovered any evidence to suggest an arson."

Police Col. John E. Gavrilis said investigators believe that someone set the fire but without an intent to burn the house down. The deaths will not be investigated as murders, he said.

Frazier and several top police commanders, including the head of homicide, met for about an hour with Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. to discuss leads and to reconcile differences in how the investigation should proceed.

This month, police had strongly believed the Jan. 14 fire started in the kitchen of the small home in the 5200 block of Norwood Ave. Fire investigators, who had initially ruled the fire incendiary, or set by a person, were concentrating on a charred staircase.

The fire killed Juanita Roy, 20, Francine Roy, 37, and her three children, Antonie, 4, Anthony, 3, and Antonia, 23 months. The state medical examiner's office has ruled the deaths homicides, but that does not mean they meet the threshold for a murder finding.

Gavrilis, head of the police Criminal Investigation Bureau, said yesterday that his department concurs with fire investigators that the fire started on the staircase. But police said they are no closer to determining how the fire started than they were five months ago. Gavrilis said the investigation remains open and active.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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