On Wednesday, April 9, shortly before 5 in the evening, police cars, fire trucks, and two ambulances responded to a house fire in the middle of the block on National Avenue between 30th and 31st.
Police at each end of the block directed traffic away from the scene. A young pregnant woman was seen being loaded into one ambulance, and another gurney was rolled over to a police car parked in the middle of the street in front of the burning house; a young man was removed from the police car and assisted onto the gurney. He was handcuffed and surrounded by firefighters and police officers; the officers removed the restraints, he was able then to lie down, and the gurney was rolled away to the second ambulance. The man’s face was wounded and bloody from the chin down as if he had been beaten.
Another young pregnant woman then arrived on the scene, said to be the girlfriend of the man taken away in the ambulance. According to witnesses, the girlfriend was the primary tenant at the house, living with her boyfriend in the main bedroom and renting out the other rooms as well as a converted garage. The people living in the house said that shortly before the fire, the girlfriend had fled the scene.
Residents of the house said the problems with the boyfriend had been ongoing. Several of the residents said that the boyfriend had recently overdosed and had been taken away. The residents were unhappy that he had returned to the house; they said he was crazy and violent. The Tuesday evening before the fire, he allegedly was in a confrontation with one of the women living at the house, threatening her with a butcher knife; that woman’s husband was at work at the time, and her daughter was spending the night with her. She was the woman taken away in the first ambulance due to smoke inhalation.
The fire was started by the boyfriend, according to the residents of the house who witnessed the situation. The girlfriend had earlier thrown her boyfriend’s belongings out of the house and told him to leave. Instead, he barricaded himself in the bathroom, began flushing what the other people in the house described as drug paraphernalia, then started setting things on fire throughout the house. The boyfriend then barricaded himself in his room and set himself on fire, causing the wounds on his face.
The house was in shambles — doors thrown open, most of the window screens torn off, and windows opened wide. Smoke poured from the windows. A plastic bin of clothes, half burnt, was tipped over in the front yard, and firefighters were bringing out more piles of clothing and other items, some still on fire, and throwing them on the lawn. A firefighter came out of the house with the hose and put out the flames. Large fans were set up to drive out the smoke. Police and fire investigators were interviewing the witnesses. An officer tied yellow crime-scene tape around the location.
Television crews from KUSI and Univision arrived and began filming the house. A cameraman interviewed some of the residents of the house. “We took the babies out and called the police,” a young woman said; she was standing by two strollers with infants strapped inside. “We knew he was going to do something. We called the police — 45 minutes went by while we were on the phone with them, and they still didn’t arrive. The house started to burn and after the house was burning was when they all came. If they had gotten here sooner, they could have stopped him and the house wouldn’t have burned. Now we lost everything, including all my baby clothes. I’m out here with two diapers only. That’s all I have.”
One of the firemen eventually came out to tell the residents it would be safe to go inside, but the women said everything inside was ruined and smelled like smoke. The fireman then asked for a count of how many people had been affected; he assured the women that the Red Cross would be contacted to come out and assist them.
A man in work clothes showed up and was walking around with a cell phone in his hand. He stood a short distance away, talking to someone on the phone. The renters said the man was the property manager for the landlord, a man they said owns several apartments and houses in the neighborhood.
“He won’t give us the name or the phone number of the owner,” one of the renters said about the property manager. “We don’t know who the landlord is; we’ve never talked to him.”
They feared being evicted and losing the money they had paid to rent the rooms. A woman said she had paid over $500 for her room a few days earlier. “We can’t prove anything — not a receipt, not a stub of paper, nothing.”
After most of the emergency vehicles left, a fire truck remained while investigators and police walked around the property and in and out of the house, around the house, looking through the windows, taking pictures, writing notes on legal pads. At the corner of the block, a red-and-white MTS vehicle was parked, apparently dispatched to deal with the Number 11 bus route that had been disrupted. It was the rush hour, and the cars and buses that normally stream down National Avenue were forced to drive around the block.