3 teen-age girls charged in apartment fire

Cable dispute at center of incident, police say

February 27, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

An 18-year-old Randallstown woman, who police say was seeking revenge on a cousin who owed her money for a cable bill, and two teen-age girls have been arrested on charges of setting fire to a Pikesville apartment building Tuesday morning, igniting a three-alarm blaze that left 31 people homeless.

Trenita Michelle Yancey, whose cousin rented a second-floor unit at the Owings Chase apartment complex, was being held at the Baltimore County Women's Detention Center yesterday in lieu of $500,000 bail. She is charged with first-degree arson and two counts of burglary. The girls -- ages 15 and 16 -- face the same charges and were released into their parents' custody. They were not identified by police because of their age.

Police said Yancey, who initially denied starting the fire, eventually told investigators that she and the two girls poured bleach on a couch, chair and mattress in her cousin's apartment and lighted the flammable liquid. She said that they tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher but that the flames spread, according to police charging documents filed in District Court.

"I wanted to get back at [my cousin] some way, either by forcing her to give me my money or by taking her TV and pawning it for the cash," police quoted Yancey as saying in the charging documents.

It took 75 firefighters several hours to control the flames, which shot through the roof of the building in the 4400 block of Old Court Road and were visible for miles. No one was injured in the fire, but three buildings in the complex -- formerly called Prescott Square -- sustained $700,000 in damage. Red Cross officials said they helped relocate 31 residents.

Yancey called 911 to report the fire about 9:30 a.m. She also told police that she yelled to alert other tenants to the flames. All the tenants escaped. Firefighters rescued three pets.

The management company that owns the complex -- near the Old Court Metro station -- could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Yancey told investigators that she and her friends planned to steal a television from Yancey's 18-year-old cousin, Shakkia Lawson, and pawn it to cover a cable television debt, according to charging documents. Yancey said she knew that the two other girls planned to destroy the apartment once inside, according to the documents. They broke into the apartment using a hammer and wore gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the documents allege.

A police spokesman erroneously reported Tuesday that a male suspect was in custody. The three female teen-agers are the only people charged in the fire. Lawson told police she moved out of the complex to live with her mother last month and hadn't been at the apartment since Saturday when she picked up her mail.

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