Possible threats before deadly fire at Detroit group home

A burned out shell and piles of soot are all that remain inside and outside an adult foster care home on Lakewood Street in Detroit. Arson investigators interviewed more people Friday.

"They've taken samples of material from around the interior to see if there's any presence of flammable liquids," said Deputy Commissioner David Fornell, Detroit Fire Department.

Two people apparently became trapped on the first floor and died Tuesday night when the fire ripped through the home. Investigators believe the fire started in the living room and spread quickly. Five other people were able to escape.

“We’re working very closely with the police department because if it looks like the fire was set then it would turn into a homicide investigation," said Fornell.

A neighbor says he's complained to the city about the mentally ill tenants wandering the neighborhood. He also says about a year ago someone threw something onto the porch, catching it on fire.

"They were saying that maybe it was some drug deal or something. I don't know," said Erick Curry.

“I know there's been a lot of stuff over there that should've been supervised."

One of the homeowner's employees - who wants to remain anonymous - tells Fox 2 that she's seen drug dealers coming to the group homes Benneth Okonkwo owns. Three weeks ago, she says she witnessed a man threatening to burn the home down if Okonkwo didn't pay him $480 dollars he apparently owed.

That homecare worker says the owner’s response to those threats is what's really startling. She says that he said if he lost the place, he'd just open another one.

As another home owned by Okonkwo caught fire just two months ago, investigators say that was ruled an accident.  Okonkwo did not return our calls for comment Friday. His wife also refused to comment.
Meanwhile, arson investigators who were given this information, say they plan to speak with that home care worker.

“We want to get to the bottom of this,” said Fornell, “We want to see - if this was a set fire - who did it and bring them to justice.”