Po­lice ar­rest sev­eral in 1993 build­ing fire

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION -

Los An­ge­les po­lice have ar­rested sev­eral peo­ple in con­nec­tion with a 1993 apart­ment build­ing fire that killed 10 peo­ple, in­clud­ing seven chil­dren, of­fi­cials an­nounced Satur­day.

Those ar­rested re­mained jailed, Of­fi­cer Aareon Jef­fer­son said. He had no other de­tails. Po­lice planned to hold a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

The three-story build­ing in the West­lake district caught fire May 3, 1993. At the time, po­lice said they be­lieved the blaze was set by gang mem­bers kicked off the prop­erty for sell­ing drugs.

The build­ing, packed with mainly poor im­mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica, had in­op­er­a­ble smoke alarms. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found fire doors had been propped or nailed open for ven­ti­la­tion, al­low­ing smoke to surge through the apart­ments.

Ten­ants tried to es­cape by jump­ing from win­dows, scram­bling down fire es­capes and climb­ing down bed­sheets tied to bal­conies. At one point, neigh­bors formed a hu­man chain to pass along chil­dren from up­per floors.

Other chil­dren were dropped from bal­conies into wait­ing hands.

The dead in­cluded three women, two of whom were preg­nant, and chil­dren as young as 4. One woman’s baby was de­liv­ered by Cae­sarean sec­tion be­fore she died.

Most of the bod­ies were found in a cor­ri­dor on the third floor.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the fire was set by gang mem­bers who had been or­dered off the prop­erty be­cause the man­ager sus­pected they were deal­ing drugs. The apart­ment com­plex was known for co­caine deal­ing by a lo­cal gang, and the man­ager had be­gun re­port­ing the ac­tiv­ity to po­lice.

“The lo­cal thugs in the area de­cided that she had to leave, and the fire was set,” De­tec­tive Steven Spear said in 1998, af­ter two gang mem­bers were ar­rested and charged with mur­der.

How­ever, the case against the men was dropped two years later for lack of ev­i­dence. “It wasn’t clear these were the right guys,” Deputy District At­tor­ney Joseph Es­pos­ito said at the time.

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