Columbia, TN Fumes From Fire Kill 42 In Jail, June 1977
FUMES BLAMED IN DEATHS OF 42 IN JAIL.
Columbia (UPI) -- Deadly cynaide and carbon monoxide fumes, gushing from a padded cell set afire by an emotionally disturbed runaway youth from Wisconsin, were blamed Monday for the deaths of 42 prisoners and visitors at the Maury County Jail Sunday.
Sheriff BILL VOSS said ANDY ZINMER, 16, a fugitive from a home for emotionally disturbed children in Dousman, Wis., would be charged with arson and 42 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of 34 prisoners and 8 visitors who died in the blaze during visiting hours Sunday.
VOSS said deputy sheriffs "did everything humanly possible" to save the victims. He said he had "no reason whatsoever" to believe the deputies were negligent.
The state fire marshal's office reported three of the blood samples taken from eight of the dead contained "relatively high levels of cynaide" and all had high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.
TOM COPELAND, chief of fire protection, said the fumes were emitted from the foam plastic padding, and its polyvinyl chloride covering, in the cell where ZINMER was transferred after he flooded his juvenile detention quarters by causing a toilet to overflow.
Fifty-six inmates and about 40 visitors were in the prisoner area shortly before 2 p.m. CDT when ZIMNER apparently set fire to his cell with a cigarette given him by someone visiting another prisoner. He began screaming "I'm on fire!" Five deputies were in the administration area at the front of the jail.
ZINMER, his clothing in flames, was dragged screaming from his cell by two deputies while chief criminal investigator JERRY WAYNE DICKEY, carrying a ring of keys, ran back toward the cellblock area to free the prisoners.
DICKEY collided with stampeding vistors screaming "Fire! Fire!" and dropped the keys. He said he found them after crawling on his hands and knees for "two or three minutes." But by then he was unable to get back to the cellblock because of the blinding smoke.
A bulldozer and sledgehammers battered through the reinforced concrete walls at the back of the jail while a wrecker, straining so hard at times that its front wheels left the ground, jerked bars from cell windows.
Firemen wearing gas masks finally struggled through the smoke to reach the victims, most of whom were piled in a corner of the workhouse area. The last sounds they heard may have been of rescuers beating down the walls in a futile rescue attempt.
Ambulances took 75 persons to the Maury County Hospital here, 42 dead and 33 injured. Twelve of the injured, including ZIMNER, were transferred to Nashville hospitals.
State officials said they were attempting to track down the manufacturer of the foam padding in ZINMER'S cell.
ZINMER, listed in serious condition at Vanderbilt Hospital, was first arrested on Feb. 28, 1975 for setting fire to a towel rack in an office building in Superior, Wis., according to police there. He was questioned last June by juvenile authorities for threatening to set fire to his home.
The youngster, described by his mother as an emotionally disturbed loner, escaped from the Lad Lake Home 38 miles west of Milwaukee last Thursday and was picked up by sheriff's deputies Saturday morning while walking along Interstate 65.
Deputy MIKE SMITH said ZINMER was kept in a juvenile cell until he began causing trouble and was then taken to the padded cell.
Kingsport News Tennessee 1977-06-28
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!