Essex man charged in house explosion

Himes held on 7 counts in blast that police call an attempted suicide

November 26, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The 38-year-old Essex man who authorities say blew up his house while trying to kill himself was arrested yesterday and charged with seven counts of reckless endangerment -- one for each of the seven people injured in the Nov. 2 explosion, Baltimore County police said.

After surrendering to fire investigators in White Marsh, Cecil W. Himes Jr. was being held on $100,000 bail at the White Marsh precinct late yesterday, police said.

Himes, who was trapped in the rubble of the duplex with two firefighters, is accused of removing a length of natural gas pipe from the clothes dryer in the basement of his home in an attempt to asphyxiate himself. He told police he was drunk at the time, according to charging documents filed in District Court.

Police said Himes told them that he had first tried to remove the vent pipe from the dryer and turn the dryer on. When that failed to kill him, Himes removed the flexible pipe from the shut-off valve, according to court papers.

It is not clear what caused the gas to ignite.

William Scott Patterson, a lawyer representing Cecil Himes and his wife, Donna Himes, in their negotiations with their insurance company, said the family had no comment on the criminal charges. "It's a tragic situation for everyone involved -- the Himes family and their neighbors," Patterson said yesterday.

The Himes' two teen-age sons were outside the house, in the 500 block of Chalcot Square, when it exploded. They were not injured. The couple who lived in the other half of the duplex, Michael and Sandra Milliken, escaped before the blast.

Michael Milliken said his insurance settlement has been delayed while the Himes' insurance company waited to see whether charges would be filed.

"There are a lot of lives affected by this," he said. "A lot of people in the neighborhood would like to see this mess get cleaned up. These people have seen a house explode. It's a daily reminder of what happened."

Milliken's lawyer, David Shapiro, said he is concerned that Himes' insurance company will deny the claim if he is found guilty of intentionally causing the damage.

Himes was the most seriously injured in the blast and spent several weeks in the burn unit at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Seven others -- four firefighters, a police officer, a neighbor and a motorist -- were injured by the force of the blast and flying debris, police said.

The two firefighters who had been searching the house for Himes and were trapped in the rubble for nearly an hour were flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center for burns and bruises. Two other firefighters who had been trying to ventilate the home were thrown onto the front lawn by the explosion. They were taken to Bayview with burns.

A police officer standing in front of the duplex and a teen-age girl who had been driving past the house were hit by flying glass and were treated at Franklin Square Hospital Center for cuts and abrasions. A neighbor who was walking across the street was thrown into the curb by the explosion, police said. Several of her teeth were knocked out and her lip was torn, police said. She was also treated at Franklin Square.

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

Seeking protection from domestic violence, Donna Himes was granted a restraining order against her husband in March. But she 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.

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