A Kansas City woman pleaded not guilty Monday to six charges, including three added last week, in connection with an October fire that killed two firefighters.
A grand jury indicted Thu Hong Nguyen last week on charges of causing catastrophe, two counts of second-degree assault and three charges previously filed by prosecutors: arson and two counts of second-degree murder.
Her lawyer entered the pleas on her behalf Monday during a short arraignment in Jackson County Circuit Court.
Nguyen, 43, allegedly set the Oct. 12 fire that destroyed the half-block-long building where she ran a nail salon in the 2600 block of Independence Boulevard. Kansas City firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh died fighting the blaze when a wall collapsed. Two firefighters standing near them suffered serious injuries.
If convicted of causing a catastrophe, Nguyen would face 10 to 30 years in prison — the same sentencing range for convictions on second-degree murder.
She allegedly set the fire in a storeroom in her first-floor nail salon. Court documents say she was the last person to leave the salon the night of the fire.
Property damage totaled more than $2 million. Twenty-six apartment residents and five businesses were displaced.
At least 18 firefighters were inside the building when an evacuation order was given just minutes before the wall collapsed. Before the collapse, firefighters rescued two residents from the upper floors of the building.
William Shull, a lawyer representing Nguyen, said after the arraignment that he had been “very surprised” by the grand jury indictments announced Friday. The additional charges represented “piling on” his client, he said. If found guilty of the second-degree murder and arson charges announced in October, he said, Nguyen would spend much of her remaining life in prison.
“If she’s not guilty, then it doesn’t matter how many charges you throw at her, she’ll be not guilty,” Shull said. “It may well be something of a publicity thing, to let people think that they’re being aggressive in the matter.”
Nguyen is being held in lieu of a $2 million cash bond.
Shull described Nguyen as “very, very upset” and “under a horrible amount of stress,” adding that she is experiencing “some very significant nervous and perhaps even mental health issues that we may have to explore.”
Nguyen’s next court date is Feb. 9.