Man charged after morning fire destroys 3 Baltimore rowhouses

Suspect's ex-girlfriend recently moved to street

March 28, 2000|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

A man was charged in a suspected arson fire that tore through a trio of rowhouses yesterday morning in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave. near Clifton Park, sending flames spouting from windows toward adjoining homes and drizzling firefighters with molten roof tar.

One firefighter was injured when hot tar fell onto his hand. But no one else was hurt -- due in large part to neighbors quickly sounding the alarm as the sudden blaze swept down the block.

"I was on my front porch, and the lady next door came running over, yelling, `Get out, get out! Your place is on fire!' " said Eugene Stewart, 73. "As far as I got was the front door. When I looked in, the whole thing was blazing."

Residents quickly surrounded David William Johnson on the sidewalk, accusing him of lighting the fire to burn out an ex-girlfriend who had recently left him and moved in with her mother on Tivoly.

As more than 50 firefighters swarmed into the burning rowhouses, police jostled with the throng of angry neighbors to take Johnson into custody.

Johnson, 52, of the 1500 block Gorsuch Ave., was charged with first-degree arson, malicious burning and reckless endangerment, said Sgt. Scott Rowe, a city police spokesman.

"Lock him up!" demanded Sharon Slater, 48, as flames and smoke belched from a hole in the roof of her home at 2790 Tivoly yesterday morning. "You better lock him up because he ain't gonna be safe out here!"

At least five children lived in the three houses, Slater said, but none was present when the fire erupted about 10: 40 a.m. in the rear of 2738 Tivoly.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Tor- res of the Baltimore Fire Department said second and third alarms were quickly struck at 10: 48 a.m., sending 15 pumper trucks and ladders screaming down the narrow block and adjoining Kennedy Avenue.

Torres said the fire resulted in the "complete loss" of the three dwellings.

Annette Christmas, 40, said that she had seen a man earlier in the morning at Retta's Bar, on nearby Gorsuch Avenue, who was drunk and threatening to take revenge against a woman on Tivoly Avenue.

"He told me he was gonna take her out by any means necessary," she recalled. "I bought him a drink. I told him to calm down, stop talking crazy. Then he told me he had some business to take care of and left. Next thing I know, there's smoke all down the block."

Ella Jackson, 37, wept on a neighbor's porch across Tivoly Avenue and watched her mother's house burn as she recounted how she had broken up with Johnson this month after a stormy three-year relationship.

"I saw him this morning, coming out of the alley," she sobbed. "And I said, `What are you doing around here?' "

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