Explosion at house said to be attempt at suicide

Balto. Co. man opened gas line, investigators find

November 18, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County fire investigators ruled yesterday that the natural gas explosion that leveled an Essex duplex this month, trapping a homeowner and two firefighters in the rubble, was the result of a suicide attempt.

No charges have been filed against Cecil W. Himes Jr., 38, who allegedly opened the gas line in the basement of his house in the 500 block of Chalcot Square, said Elise Armacost, a Fire Department spokeswoman. Seven people were injured in the explosion Nov. 2.

Himes was in good condition at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Based on interviews and evidence of the open line, Armacost said, investigators determined that Himes was trying to asphyxiate himself. It is not clear what ignited the gas.

Cecil Himes' brother, Allen Himes, declined to comment on the finding yesterday. Cecil Himes' wife, Donna Himes, could not be reached for comment.

David B. Shapiro, a lawyer representing Michael and Sandra Miliken, who own the other half of the duplex, said, "This result doesn't come as a great surprise. ... That very night, there was some question about whether Mr. Himes locked himself in the basement."

Donna Himes, 37, had been visiting a relative with their two teen-age sons the afternoon of Nov. 2 while her husband stayed home to watch a football game in the basement, according to firefighters and relatives. She smelled the gas when she returned and tried to open the interior and exterior basement doors but found them locked, police said. , She, the boys and their next-door neighbors escaped the duplex safely, fire officials said.

Cecil Himes and the two firefighters -- who were not seriously hurt -- were rescued from the house after the foundation crumbled from the force of the blast. Flying debris injured two other firefighters, a police officer and a neighbor.

District Court records show that Cecil Himes threatened to commit suicide in the past and that his father and wife twice petitioned for emergency evaluations at hospitals last year.

Seeking protection from domestic violence, Donna Himes was granted a restraining order against her husband in March. "He is out of control. Keeps threatening to hurt himself. Today, he called me at work [from] the house -- he said he was going to put a bullet through his head," she wrote in court papers.

However, Donna Himes requested that the order be rescinded in June, saying that they were seeing a counselor and that he was attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, according to court papers.

In August, Cecil Himes was ordered to undergo counseling, and charges that he violated the restraining order were dropped.

Neighbors were dismayed by the investigators' finding.

Ava Flottemesch, 24, a waitress who has lived on Chalcot Square for several years, said Himes should be punished. "Just all those people, the police and firefighters who were hurt. ... Since he survived, something should happen to him," she said.

Mark Perkins, 49, a truck driver who lives behind the duplex, was surprised to hear of the finding.

"He just put in a fish pond," said Perkins. "Somebody spends a lot of money on a thing like that, you don't think they're going to try and kill themselves."

He expressed sorrow for the Milikens. "These people here, they really lost out, they lost everything," he said.

Sun staff writer David Anderson contributed to this article.

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