Ex-manager: deadly apartment fire could have been avoided

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A 68-year-old woman was killed in a Westland apartment fire and some are blaming the complex's management.

Verlene Johnson is described as a prankster, hard-working, accepting and never one to complain by her daughter, who days later still can't believe her mother, is died inside her apartment.

"I was so sorry to hear that, especially with something so senseless and could've been avoided," said a former manager with Harvest Properties.

Harvest Properties is the parent company of Willow Creek apartments. Johnson, who was blind and wheelchair-bound, lived there nearly two years.

"They care more about cutting costs than they do taking care of their residents," said the former manager. And now a woman is dead. Saw it coming."

Johnson had been visiting her mother-in-law just across the hall Sunday, and then went to her apartment to take some medicine. Just 15 minutes later, Johnson's apartment was on fire. She was unable to escape and found lying on her bed.

"It's crazy, I feel so bad," said resident Nick Nasarzewski, adding he thinks it could have been prevented.

"Our air conditioning caught on fire and all they did was shut it off. It's been six months now."

Neighbors also reported the building is not wheelchair accessible, and has no smoke detectors. The former property manager says that's just the beginning.

"It was the biggest mess I had ever seen," she said. "The hallways, the carpets were disgusting. Almost half the property didn't have air conditioners.

"It was a lot of 'let me see where I can cut cost.'"

When FOX 2 tried to speak to the apartment office manager, he would not comment or give out a phone number to call their corporate office.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation Tuesday as Fox 2 requested inspection reports for the property.

Meanwhile, Johnson's family and neighbors are demanding answers.

"They didn't care about their employees, their residents," said the former manager. "The bottom line was what was more important and now look what happened. Sad."