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Nov. 26, 2020

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Fatal Minnehaha fire investigated as arson, possible homicide

Court records: Victim, 75, was found strapped to a chair in his home

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

An Oct. 10 fatal house fire in the Minnehaha area is being investigated as an arson and potential homicide after the 75-year-old victim was found strapped to a chair in his living room, according to court records filed last week.

Further, those records say there was evidence of possible fire accelerants in each room of the burned house.

The fire and death investigations are continuing, and no further information was available Wednesday.

The exact manner and cause of John E. McCarty’s death are still pending, according to the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit is awaiting the medical examiner’s report and toxicology results, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Brent Waddell.

A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said it can take up to six months for the agency to obtain all of the information needed to determine cause and manner of death.

Clark County Deputy Fire Marshal Rick Serls said his office is waiting on the sheriff’s office’s investigation.

A search warrant affidavit filed Nov. 12 in Clark County Superior Court sought a warrant for investigators to search McCarty’s finances and Veterans Affairs information, including benefits and medical records.

The sheriff’s office detective who authored the affidavit, for a warrant requested Oct. 14, cited evidence of first-degree arson and, potentially, homicide.

The detective wrote he has been unable to locate any family or friends who “could provide additional insights into (McCarty’s) life or who he was spending time with.”

“Due to the suspicious nature of the death in this investigation, I’m seeking these records to determine if the deceased was being extorted, was in extreme debt, was being treated or recently diagnosed with significant illnesses or any other explanations for his death,” the affidavit reads.

Suspicious fire

Shortly after 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, Vancouver firefighters rushed to 5108 N.E. 66th Ave., to find a single-story, ranch-style house ablaze. They received a report that someone was inside and “went into rescue mode,” Vancouver Fire Capt. Raymond Egan previously told The Columbian.

Emergency crews declared McCarty dead at the scene.

A total of 34 firefighters responded and brought the fire under control by 7:30 p.m.

At about 7:45 p.m., the detective, who authored the search warrant affidavit, said he was contacted about a suspicious death at the residence. The initial information relayed was that a man, later identified as McCarty, had been found in the burned structure, strapped to a chair, the affidavit states.

Investigators on scene said firefighters found the deceased man, as well as “a jug container with a clear liquid in a back bedroom with a burn pattern visible in the carpet that is visible from the outside of the home,” the affidavit reads.

A warrant was obtained to search the house, and officers reportedly canvassed the neighborhood, hoping to obtain surveillance footage from neighbors.

No neighbors reported seeing or hearing anything unusual that evening, the detective wrote in the affidavit.

“We looked at the chair that the deceased was attached to when he was located by fire personnel. The chair had a red strap tied to it that was charred in several places. It appeared to have many more knots on the left side of the chair, and there were no knots on the right side,” the affidavit reads.

The northeast corner of the house saw the most fire damage; inside a room was an electric burner, possibly a hot plate, that appeared to have had papers and a toilet paper roll placed on it, the affidavit says.

There were personal papers strewn throughout the living room, where McCarty’s body was located, according to the affidavit, as well as a propane torch that was still venting. The detective noted it was likely burning at the time of the fire.

“It looked as though someone had distributed the contents of several banker’s boxes worth of papers throughout the room along with a five-gallon gas can and another smaller, clear container that possibly contained an accelerant,” the affidavit reads.

In each room, investigators found jugs of what appeared to be accelerant, and on the kitchen counters, there appeared to be journal entries that McCarty had been writing for years, as well as newspaper clippings, the affidavit says.

Investigators found McCarty’s wallet inside the house and noted the contents, which included bank and credit cards, and his VA information. His Ford pickup, with the keys on the dashboard, was in the garage, along with expensive tools and equipment. Investigators noted other possible valuables inside.

An autopsy was performed Oct. 13. The detective said he was present for part of it and noted burns on McCarty’s forearms indicated they were tied down at the time of the fire, according to the affidavit.

Jessica Prokop: 360-735-4551; jessica.prokop@columbian.com; twitter.com/JProkop16

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