Couple seriously burned; probe suggests foul play
CHATTAROY – Neighbors of two people severely burned in a mobile home explosion Wednesday struggle to believe it may have been an attempted murder. They say the couple were too quiet, too nice for it to be anything other than an accident.
But the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the fire at 3110 E. Chattaroy Road on Wednesday night as an attempted homicide or a high-level assault, said Lt. Steve Barbieri, an investigator at the scene Thursday.
Early reports indicate the explosion was a domestic violence case, Barbieri said. The victims were married, neighbors said, but were in the process of a divorce.
Bernie and Renee Lane, who live two homes away, said they’re shocked at the news. Bernie Lane had walked his dog past the victim’s home seconds before it went up in flames.
“It was an odd explosion,” he said, describing the deep boom that shook his entire home.
Renee Lane said the victims seemed friendly to one another. The wife visited regularly, and the two were riding their bikes together last Sunday.
“We’re better friends than we were when we’re together,” the Lanes recall the husband saying about the divorce.
Deanna Moore, who was visiting the neighborhood when she saw both victims in the yard with severe burns, ran to the woman’s aid. The wife was bringing medication to her husband, Moore said Wednesday.
The woman told Moore that her husband had several propane tanks turned on in the mobile home and lit a match, saying he was going to kill himself, she said.
Barbieri said the explosion may have been caused by propane or another highly explosive gas. Several propane tanks lay scattered throughout the yard, blocked off by red and yellow crime tape.
Dee and Drew Godfrey also live nearby, about a block from the explosion. Both remember seeing the man doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, fixing roofs and building fences. He was friendly, Dee Godfrey said, but kept to himself most days.
Drew Godfrey said he grabbed his camera and went to see the blaze. He saw both victims in the yard, covered in blisters, their clothes burned off. Smoke was billowing into the air, raining debris on nearby homes.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” Drew Godfrey said.
The burned man, 51, is listed in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with severe burns covering most of his body. The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the location or condition of the woman, 57, as she may be a victim of domestic violence, Barbieri said.
Investigators from Fire Districts 4 and 9, Spokane Valley Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combed through the wreckage all day Thursday.
Barbieri said it’s too early to make any arrests in the case but that the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t be investigating if there weren’t reason to believe foul play was involved.
“This has a couple of nuances that cause us to come out here,” he said.