Coos Bay Fire Leads to Charges
The Register-Guard

Updated: 01-30-2003 06:00:10 PM

COOS BAY - The owner and the installer of an industrial oven blamed for causing a fire that took the lives of three Coos Bay firefighters last November were arraigned Monday afternoon on charges of criminally negligent homicide.

Jonathan Edward Inskeep, 58, and Verlin Glen Villines, 61, both of Coos Bay, each face three negligent homicide charges for the Nov. 25 deaths of firefighters Randall Carpenter, Jeffery Common and Robert Hammers.

The three died in a blaze in the Farwest Truck and Auto Supply building at 340 S. Second St. Shortly after the fire, state Fire Marshal Bob Garrison said the fire started in a machine shop, Automotive Machine Services, which operated as a separate business in the back of the Farwest building.

The propane-fueled oven in question was used to clean greasy auto parts, which were placed inside and heated to temperatures as high as 1,400 degrees, according to the Kansas company that manufactured it. Inskeep owned and operated the business, and Villines is believed to have installed the oven, according to the fire marshal's office.

Garrison said previously that the fire started when a vent pipe from the oven ignited the wood structure in the back of a mezzanine that occupied part of the upper portion of the 13,520-square-foot building. The firemen died after a slow-burning fire in the mezzanine wall and ceiling exploded into flames and part of the roof caved in.

Coos County District Attorney Paul Burgett said Monday that a grand jury returned an indictment against the two men Friday as the result of a two-month investigation by the Coos Bay Police Department, the Oregon State Police, the fire marshal's office and the district attorney's office.

"The charges stem from evidence showing that an oven used to bake and clean auto machine parts was improperly installed and operated thus causing the fire in question," said a statement released by Burgett.

The city building inspector had previously said the oven had been installed without a permit. The business was issued a certificate of occupancy by the city in July 2001.

Inskeep and Villines were arraigned Monday by Judge Martin Stone and were released on their own recognizance. They entered no plea. Another court appearance is set for March 3 at 8:30 a.m. Villines could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered the phone at Inskeep's home said he had nothing to say.

Criminally negligent homicide is a class C felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine up to $100,000 on each count.