New charges have been filed in connection with the October 2015 arson fire that killed two Kansas City firefighters.
Thu Hong Nguyen, the 45-year-old woman accused of starting that fire, now faces a new arson charge for allegedly setting a 2013 Lee’s Summit blaze for which the cause previously had been ruled to be undetermined.
Both fires began in nail salons that Nguyen managed.
In a separate indictment unsealed Tuesday, her boyfriend and business partner at the Kansas City salon, 51-year-old Nhat M. Pham, was charged with insurance fraud in connection with that fire in the 2600 block of Independence Boulevard.
The criminal complaint against Pham does not address whether he had any role in setting the fatal fire, only that he lied about his whereabouts that night.
According to court records, Pham initially told authorities that he helped Nguyen and an employee close up LN Salon and Spa at 2614 Independence Blvd.
That conformed with the account Nguyen originally gave authorities when she said she left the salon with two others.
But investigators established through surveillance video and interviews that Pham was not there at closing time on the night of the fire. Instead, court documents allege he was at the Argosy Casino with another woman.
The significance of that discrepancy is not explained in the criminal complaint, nor was a spokesman for Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker prepared to comment.
Insurance fraud is a Class D felony that can draw a maximum sentence of four years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine. Pham is out on $10,000 bond after an initial court appearance.
In the other case, Nguyen, 45, was charged with one new count of first-degree arson for allegedly starting a July 25, 2013, fire that damaged the interior of Nails USA, a salon that court records said was purportedly owned by a relative.
Lee’s Summit investigators said at the time that the cause of the fire could not be determined.
But the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took another look at the case file and conducted new interviews after Nguyen was charged with starting the Oct. 12, 2015, fire that killed firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh.
Two other firefighters were seriously injured and the building was declared a total loss, displacing 26 apartment residents and five businesses.
Mesh and Leggio were killed when a brick wall fell on them while they were in an alley trying to quell the flames. Federal and local investigative reports later concluded that they and others should not have been so close to the building at the time because a collapse zone had been declared.
The Fire Department has since tightened its procedures for keeping personnel out of designated collapse zones.
According to the new charging documents, bureau special agent Ryan Zornes followed up on the Lee’s Summit fire two months after Nguyen was accused of starting the Kansas City blaze.
His investigation included new lab work and testing scenarios for how the fire might have started, which ruled out “all accidental causes,” according to newly filed court documents.
On the day of the Lee’s Summit fire, Nguyen was the last person seen leaving Nails USA, locking up and then driving away with two employees.
The salon’s last customer of the day watched the three leave as she sat on a park bench after her pedicure. Less than 10 minutes later, that unidentified customer noticed the fire and called 911.
Kansas City firefighters responded to a fire call at the Independence Boulevard address about 10 minutes after surveillance video showed Nguyen leaving that shop, court records show.
The new charge against her, a Class B felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, was added to the previous indictment charging Nguyen with two counts of second-degree murder. She also faces two counts of assault in connection with the Kansas City fire, as well as one count of causing a catastrophe and a single charge of arson in the first degree causing serious physical injury of death. Like the murder charges, the latter charge is a Class A felony that carries a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison or life.
Nguyen is being held in the Jackson County Detention Center pending her July 2018 trial date.