The Lima News
Whether one believes the Lima Fire Department conducted a thorough investigation into a fatal fire three years ago depends on how you define a warm or cool summer morning.
No one is debating that temperatures were in the mid- to upper-50s when a house caught fire the morning of June 14, 2009, killing two people.
Instead, the question is about whether it would be unusual for someone to use a kerosene heater in June. It is being raised now by a Lima woman whose sister died in the blaze. The fire was originally ruled accidental, then this month, changed to an arson-homicide after Lima police received a confession from a man setting the fire.
“Nobody in the dead of summer, under any circumstances … do you burn a kerosene heater,” said Thelma Flint, the sister of the dead woman.
Flint pleaded with Lima fire investigator Toby Jenkins to investigate the fire more closely, but his mind was made up. In the days following the fire, Jenkins ruled “there appears to be no evidence of anything suspicious with the fire.” He surmised it was cool that morning and “a space heater may have caused nearby contents of the house to ignite.”
Flint’s concern about the thoroughness of the original investigation is understandable, but it is unlikely if that will ever be known. The Lima News did look at the personnel files of the long-time fire inspector, and found them filled with notations for commendable work. Nowhere was there a hint that his investigations were not thorough. Lima Fire Chief Mark Heffner also pointed out that for the month of June, temperatures in the 50s would be considered cool.
Flint did raise other questions which were more easily answered.
She was told firefighters found her sister’s body at the door trying to get out. The body had signs of other injuries, such as bruising and blunt-force trauma. Yet, it is not unusual for fire victims to receive such injuries, being self-inflicted as the victims frantically seek a path to safety.
Fire investigations are always challenging since much of the evidence is destroyed. It is important that every clue or angle is explored. While we cannot say for sure whether that did or didn’t happen in this case, one thing is for certain. It was embarrassing for LFD to have a closed case three years ago come back as a murder investigation.