Bond will remain at $2 million cash for the woman charged with arson and murder in the deaths of two Kansas City firefighters battling an Oct. 12 blaze on Independence Boulevard, a judge ruled Friday.
Thu Hong Nguyen’s attorney had sought a bond reduction to $100,000 and asked that Hong Nguyen be allowed to post 10 percent of that amount.
Jackson County Associate Circuit Judge Jalilah Otto denied that request.
“I just don’t want it to get lost on the parties that this is a double homicide case,” Otto said in making her ruling.
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Hong Nguyen, 43, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree arson and two counts of second-degree murder.
Hong Nguyen followed the proceedings with the help of an interpreter but did not speak during the hearing Friday. Her 24-year-old son, Cuong Nguyen, testified on her behalf but was not able to offer any information about the Independence Boulevard fire.
Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi testified on behalf of the department and the families of fallen firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh. He asked the court not to lower Hong Nguyen’s bond.
Berardi said the property damage from the fire was more than $2 million. Twenty-six apartment dwellers and five businesses were displaced. Other businesses were affected.
Berardi said 18 firefighters were in the burning building when an evacuation order was given just minutes before a wall collapse killed Leggio and Mesh and seriously injured two others. He said the department could have lost 18 firefighters.
Before the collapse, firefighters rescued two residents from the upper floors of the building.
The alleged arson, Berardi said, demonstrated “a total disregard for human life.”
Hong Nguyen is accused of setting the fire in a storeroom in a nail salon she owned on the ground floor of the building in the 2600 block of Independence Boulevard. Court documents say she was the last person to leave the salon the night of the fire.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker contends Hong Nguyen’s motive was greed for insurance proceeds.
Court documents also associate Hong Nguyen with two previous fires and said she told investigators she had received insurance money from those fires. But her attorney, Bill Shull, has said she did not receive any insurance money.
One of those fires occurred in July 2013 at a nail salon at 410 S.W. Ward Road in Lee’s Summit where Hong Nguyen worked.
Cuong Nguyen testified that he owned that salon and received more than $51,000 in insurance payments for damage from the fire. He said his mother did not receive any of the money.
Under questioning from Chief Deputy Prosecutor Page Bellamy, Cuong Nguyen said he had purchased the business at age 22 for about $30,000 that he had earned previously by doing odd jobs.
Cuong Nguyen said the fire was electrical, and he denied that it started at his mother’s workstation. He said workstations were used interchangeably by employees.
Cuong Nguyen acknowledged a fire occurred at a home his mother once rented from a relative but said he knew nothing about any insurance payouts in that case.
Court documents also note that a fire occurred in January of this year in a vacant apartment directly above Hong Nguyen’s nail salon on Independence Boulevard. That fire was ruled an arson.
A Farmers Insurance agent in Olathe in 2011 filed a suspected insurance fraud report against Hong Nguyen.
Court documents say Hong Nguyen told investigators that on the day of the October fire, she went to a nail supply store and purchased four bottles of acetone and four bottles of isopropyl alcohol, both of which are flammable liquids.
If convicted of any of the charges, Hong Nguyen could face life imprisonment. Her next court appearance will be an arraignment on Jan. 25.
Prepared testimony from Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi
Good morning, Your Honor.
On behalf of the Kansas City Fire Department and the families of the injured and killed, I stand before you asking that you reject the defendant’s request for bond reduction.
As firefighters, we face many dangers, and because we will risk (a lot) to save (a lot), those dangers are increased greatly when civilian lives are in harm’s way. In this case, we risked lives to save lives that were put in harm’s way by the act of arson.
When our crews arrived on scene at 2608 Independence Avenue that evening, civilian lives were in danger, and (approximately) 22 firefighters immediately went to work to rescue multiple victims. This number does not include the nearly 80 responders who were at risk responding to the incident.
At the time of the fire, that row of addresses housed five businesses on the ground floor and 16 apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors, which were occupied by 26 people.
We arrived at 7:30 and immediately initiated an aggressive interior attack and primary search on the report of people trapped. Firefighters made multiple rescues of civilians prior to the evacuation order given at 7:52. As a matter of procedure, a personal accountability report, or PAR, was conducted and completed at approximately 8:00 p.m. At 8:06 p.m., the collapse that killed John Mesh (and) Larry Leggio and severely injured Dan Warner and Chris Anderson occurred. All of these men have families whose lives have changed.
As if those lives and injuries are not tragic enough, we escaped an even greater tragedy, by only minutes, which could have cost as many as 18 firefighters their lives.
To start a fire for profit below 16 occupied apartments shows a total disregard for human life, and we collectively request rejection of the defendant’s request for bond reduction.