Tragic Fire Claims Three Victims, Arson Investigation Underway

Published 03/17 2014 10:38PM

Updated 03/17 2014 10:57PM

Autopsies are scheduled for the three people found dead in today's West Franklin street fire. A tragic scene quickly turns into a crime scene before the flames were even out. Three people are dead, four injured, and a man detained after the fire. The home was purposely set on fire, and authorities are still figuring out why.

"I never in my life thought I would be standing here like this," says Rodney Smithhart. Smithhart says he barely escaped death. "Normally, I'm asleep during the days because I work at night. I got really lucky." His home is now ash. Authorities say the building at 29 West Franklin street in Evansville, is made up of several apartments.

Authorities say the building was intentionally set on fire. "I finally got a chance to glimpse in and see that my apartment is pretty well a part of the total loss," says Smithhart. Smithhart says he was at a doctor's appointment when flames roared out of the home. The fire claimed the lives of three victims. "I'm very thankful I wasn't home. I'm very, very thankful."

"When I see something like that, it just makes me sad," says Joe Persinger. He and his niece, Irene, witnessed the fire that officials say started around four o'clock. "I saw smoke pouring out of the windows, just pouring out of the windows," says Persinger.

Evansville Police say four people, located on the second floor, escaped through a window, but suffered injuries. Two of the residents were transferred to Wishard Memorial Hospital's Burn Unit in Indianapolis.

Police say witnesses saw someone running from the home moments after the flames. The witnesses say the man was yelling 'incriminating statements.' Authorities say they were able to get a description of the man, and locate him about four blocks away. "Right now, you've probably got a man dead, a woman dead, and a baby dead. There is no excuse for that," says Persinger.

Sergeant Jason Cullum with the Evansville Police Department says the act of arson drew in crowds, full of emotion. "This was a very chaotic scene when the first responders got here," says Cullum.

Officials say crews worked aggressively to battle the flames and save the residents inside the home. "Unfortunately, we do have a sad outcome, but four people did get out."

Authorities say four fire fighters sustained non-serious injuries. The fire remains under investigation.

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