Illinois Landlord Convicted in Fire Deaths
By The Associated Press
Nov 17, 2014, 9:22 PM
CHICAGO — A suburban Chicago landlord was found guilty Monday in the deaths of seven people for a Valentine’s Day 2010 apartment building fire that prosecutors said was set for insurance money.
Lawrence Myers, 64, was found guilty of seven counts of first-degree murder and of several counts of aggravated arson for hiring his building manager, Marion Andre Comier, 51, to set fire to the Cicero building to collect $250,000 in insurance money.
Killed in the fire were Byron Reed, 20; Sallie Gist, 18; their sons, 3-year-old Rayshawn Reed and 3-day-old Brian Reed; Gist’s 16-year-old twin siblings, Elijah and Elisha Gist; and family friend Tiera Davidson, 18. Three Cicero firefighters were injured battling the blaze, which was set on a Sunday morning.
During Myers’ two-day trial, the jury heard recordings of conversations between Myers and a friend who cooperated with investigators. On the tape, Myers talks about the scheme, saying he would have set the fire “in the afternoon, just before the kids got back from school.”
Cook County jurors also heard from Bonita Robertson and her cousin, Brian Trent, who said Myers asked Trent to torch the building.
Prosecutors said the fire was set on the back porch of the first floor of the two-story building, which had two two-bedroom apartments and two three-bedroom apartments. A first-floor rear apartment did not have any tenants. Fire investigators said the blaze spread quickly through the frame building, causing the roof to collapse and spreading to the second-floor attic where the victims were sleeping. Some who escaped the building awoke to the sound of screaming and banging coming from the attic.
NEWBORN AMONG 7 KILLED IN CICERO FIRE
Posted online: February 20, 2010 5:09:40 PM PST
February 14, 2010 (CICERO, Ill.) — Fire officials say seven people are dead after flames roared through a three-story building Sunday. Five of the victims were from the same family. The Cook County Medical Examiner neither confirmed the number of victims nor their identities Sunday.
Authorities say the youngest victim was a 3-day-old baby.
Cicero officials say it was the most deadly fire the town had seen in almost 25 years.
Crews boarded up the house Sunday night to keep it safe until investigators return Monday. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
The blaze broke out early Sunday in a multi-unit apartment building. Authorities say they believed it started in the rear of the building.
Five of the victims died in the rear attack. Two others were recovered in the rear patio, apparently trying to escape.
“It’s tremendous. It’s something you can never imagine. It’s just one of those things you go like, ‘Wow,'” said family member Patrick Lewis.
Lewis is among the devastated struggling to make sense of the blaze that he says claimed the lives of five of his relatives.
Sallie Gist, 18, had just returned home from the hospital with her newborn, Byron, yesterday. They were killed along with her 3-year-old son, Rashon, and the baby’s 19-year-old father, Byron Reed. Twins Elijah and Aleshia Gist, 16, who were Sallie Gist’s siblings, also died, as did the mother’s friend, Tierra Davidson, 19.
They all had planned to celebrate Sallie’s father’s birthday Sunday. He helped others escape from the second floor of the building, but he told ABC7 Chicago by telephone that he was unable to get up to the attic.
“I’ve been with this family for over 20 years. I’ve been working with them, and they called me and told me there was a fire,” said Cheryl Anderson, a family friend of the victims.
The first calls for help came around 6:30 a.m. Sunday after Cicero resident Victoria Luna saw smoke coming from the three-flat where her mother also lives.
“When I looked down, I saw the back part of her building engulfed in flames,” Luna said.
Some 60 firefighters from a half-dozen fire departments responded to the 211 extra-alarm blaze that raged through the residence. They say they were unable to reach the attic in time.
“Our command unit went in, opened up the door, there was a lot of heat, fire, and a lot of smoke,” said Ron Opalecky of the Cicero Fire Dept.
In all, 30 people were inside the building when the fire broke out. Cicero officials say they are investigating whether the exits were up to code.
“They’re still looking for relatives and friends. We don’t know their status,” said Ray Hanania, town of Cicero spokesman. “We’re going to be looking very closely at the building to determine why seven people couldn’t get out of the building.”
Close to two dozen people from the residence were taken to a shelter at the town’s public safety office where they were expected to get food and emergency care, as investigators try to figure out if the cause of the fire was accidental or suspicious.
Cicero officials say the fire spread to an adjacent coach house.
They also said three firefighters were injured, one more seriously than the other two because part of a chimney fell on him. ABC7 is told he was in stable condition Sunday night.
ABC7 Chicago contacted the building’s landlord, but that person declined to answer any questions.
The victims died from smoke inhalation, according to prosecutors.
Myers faces a mandatory life sentence for this conviction, according to prosecutors. Comier is awaiting trial.