Relatives of a Kansas City man killed in a 1999 fire want investigators to take a new look at that incident in light of a midtown fire Friday.
Prosecutors charged Loukesha Smith, 37, with arson in connection with Friday’s fire, which injured two people and destroyed a three-story apartment building near 27th Street and Benton Boulevard.
News of her arrest startled family of Eugene Counce, a 25-year-old father of two who died in a February 1999 fire in the 4200 block of Cloon Avenue.
Smith, then 20, escaped that early-morning house fire with her three children.
At the time, police investigators said they were investigating Counce’s death as a homicide. Accelerants may have been used to start the fire, they said.
Today Kansas City police consider Counce’s death an unsolved homicide.
Investigators need to take another look, said Yvonne Williamson, Counce’s mother.
“I just want to know what actually happened and why, whether it was intentional or accidental,” Williamson said.
Both Williamson and Sharen Counce, Eugene Counce’s stepmother, said they have contacted Kansas City police investigators to remind them of the 1999 blaze. Sharen Counce conceded that the almost 17 years that have elapsed since her stepson’s death could hamper a renewed investigation.
“It’s been 17 years but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt,” she said. “You’re talking about a family that for 17 years has not had closure, answers or justice.”
A police spokeswoman could not say Monday whether the 1999 investigation will be reopened.
Counce graduated from Central High School in 1992 and worked for several years as a machine operator.
“He was always happy, always smiling, whenever he saw me,” Williamson said.
Although Counce had stayed in the Cloon Avenue house in the days before the fire, Williamson remains uncertain about the nature of his relationship with Smith. They had known each other as children, she said.
Shortly after Friday’s fire, police arrested Smith.
According to court documents, Smith told investigators that the blaze accidentally began while she was attempting to light a cigarette soaked with PCP.
The tenant of the apartment, however, told police that Smith had been passing a lit cigarette lighter near his feet. When he told her to stop, she grew agitated, according to court records.
“I’m going to burn this ... down,” Smith said, according to court documents.
The tenant saw flames at the end of the bed and tried to douse them with water. When that failed, he dragged the mattress to the back door. But when he opened the back door, outside air hit the mattress, and it exploded in flames, he told police.
Two people were injured, including one who jumped from a second-story window. The building at 2660 Lockridge Ave. contained six apartments. At least a dozen people lost their homes.