Biloxi, MS Prison Fire Kills 27 Inmates, Nov 1982
MISSISSIPPI JAIL FIRE KILLS 27 INMATES.
61 PEOPLE INJURED.
Biloxi, Miss. (AP) -- A fire set by a mentally disturbed prisoner in a padded cell filled the Harrison County Jail with thick, black smoke Monday, killing 27 prisoners and injuring 61 people, authorities said.
Eleven of the injured were in critical condition.
Some prisoners, awakened in the middle of the night by the toxic smoke from the plastic cell stuffing, put rags beneath their cell doors in a desperate attempt to save themselves. Others raced to lavatories for wet towels.
There were 95 prisoners in the jail when the fire began and the injured included 38 prisoners and 23 police, firefighters and jail workers. Officials said there were no escapes because of the blaze.
"The smoke was really bad," said Biloxi Fire Chief GUY ROBERTS. "The fire wasn't real bad. We extinguished it right away, but the jail became filled with smoke and the jailer who was trying to let the prisoners out became overcome."
By the time officials got the keys from the jailer, the one-story-brick and concrete building was filled with thick, black smoke and trapped prisoners were overcome, he said. Officials said the smoke was sucked throughout the building by the ventilation system.
"The lights were still on but they weren't doing any good. All we could do was feel our way, feel under the bunks or wherever people were huddled," Deputy Fire Chief BRUCE MARIE said. "Some of them were trying to block the cells with rags to keep the smoke out before we got there."
Harrison County Coroner ED LITTLE said 25 men and two women died.
By late morning, the victims' bodies had been carried from the charred jail and laid out in rows on the lawn.
Inmate CHARLIE ACEVEDO said in a telephone interview from his hospital bed that there was "a chemical in the smoke. You could smell it when you breathed it in, and it would just about knock you out."
"The ones that stayed alive got wet towels and wrapped them around their face of got in a shower and put wet blankets over them," ACEVEDO said.
"The ones that didn't, died."
Biloxi policeman DAN RUSSELL, who was hospitalized with smoke inhalation, identified the inmate who allegedly started the fire as ROBERT PATES.
Inmate says he fell asleep with cigarette.
Biloxi, Miss. (AP) -- The prisoner accused of setting the jailhouse fire that killed 27 inmates told deputies he was handed a lighted cigarette and fell asleep smoking, awaking to the fire and toxic fumes, an investigator said Tuesday.
ROBERT E. PATES, who faces 27 counts of capital murder for the deaths Monday, "was handed a llighted cigarette" by one of two women who were locked up across from his cell, Harrison County sheriff's investigator J. J. ROBERTS said.
"PATES said he went to sleep and the cigarette apparently started the fire," ROBERTS said. "He said that when he woke up, there were flames."
PATES cell which was padded with the plastic polyurethane, was about 4 1/2 feet from the women's cell, ROBERTS said. He said the women were among the victims.
ROBERTS would not say whether PATES claim,made during an interview with authorities, would change their belief that he set the smoky fire at the Harrison County jail.
PATES has a history of mental disorders. He had been brought to the jail Sunday night "for his own protection," authorities said.
PATES faces 27 counts of capital murder, said District Attorney ALBERT NECAISE.
PATES, one of the first inmates rescued, remained under guard at a hospital while recovering from smoke inhalation and second-degree burns. No arraignment had been set, a police spokesman said.
"We thought we ought to pick him up for his own protection," said patrolman DAN RUSSELL, who arrested PATES, 31, of Granite City, Ill., for drunkenness.
Waterloo Courier Iowa 1982-11-08