Tenant of burned house had sought help from BGE, memo says

Funeral held for last of 5 victims in fire started by candles

July 18, 2000|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

As a funeral was held yesterday for the last of five victims of a fire in a West Baltimore rowhouse last month, a city housing authority memo surfaced, revealing that the home's chief occupant had twice tried to have power restored.

Panzy Smith, who lived at 912 Amity St., visited the city Crisis Center in the 3900 block of Reisterstown Road in July 1999 and March 2000 for help getting the power restored, a Housing Authority of Baltimore City memo obtained by The Sun indicates.

After the fire, BGE said it had received no calls informing it that those who later died in the fire had moved into the home. Officials also said last month that they had received no calls in the previous six months asking that power be restored.

But the Housing Authority memo indicates that Smith, with whom the fire victims were living, had twice sought help in getting power restored.

The power had been cut because of an unpaid Baltimore Gas & Electric bill .

As a result, the family resorted to using candles, which fire officials believe caused the fatal fire.

Lily-Bell Posley, 53, and her grandchildren, Marquan Williams, 6, Nyjerra McCray, 4, and Shydeim Scott, 2, died on June 10, the day of the fire. The children's mother, Latasha McCray, was not at home at the time of the fire. The grandmother was visiting from Pennsylvania.

A funeral was held yesterday at the March Funeral Home East on North Avenue for the fire's fifth victim, Dominique Travis Derico, 10, who died Wednesday at Johns Hopkins Hospital from burns suffered in the fire.

The deaths produced outrage in the community because the family had been living without electricity for about a year. BGE said it cut power to the Amity Street house last July because of nonpayment of bills and it assumed that the same customer was still living there.

Officials said they have since learned that that customer moved. Smith moved into the home last July, and the family moved in with her about four months ago.

In a June 15 memo from the city Crisis Center to the Housing Authority, officials said that city officials had contacted BGE in July 1999, shortly after power was terminated, about Smith's account at the Amity Street address. BGE had replied that Smith needed to pay $1,266.59 to have power restored, according to the memo.

City officials arranged for Smith to pay $711, with the remaining money coming from the Baltimore Fuel Fund, which helps people in need pay utility bills, the memo said.

Smith returned to the Crisis Center in March to seek assistance. This time, however, BGE informed city officials she needed $3,784.50 to have the power restored, the memo said.

The amount included $2,800 for three other unpaid bills - all under different names and addresses.

Again, city officials arranged to obtain $1,649.76 in public funds, leaving Smith with a $1,634 bill. Smith never returned, according to the memo.

"We are aware of the family's and Ms. Smith's repeated efforts to restore electricity," said William H. Murphy, an attorney retained by Smith and McCray, the children's mother. "They have retained our services to obtain relief for damages the family suffered during the course of the fire."

Brenda Pettigrew, a BGE spokeswoman, would not comment on a specific account, but said residents are not responsible for bills from previous tenants. Pettigrew said service is restored if the new customer provides documentation that he or she is the new tenant and the old tenant no longer resides there.

Reggie Scriber, an executive director for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said BGE believed Smith had used aliases when establishing previous accounts.

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