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Originally published January 2, 2011 at 10:57 AM | Page modified January 3, 2011 at 7:38 AM

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Investigators say ashes from cigarettes or pot may have sparked fatal Redmond fire

Authorities say they are investigating whether a fire that swept through a Redmond apartment building early Saturday, killing a 32-year-old man and four young boys, was caused by ashes left smoldering in the bathroom.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Authorities say they are investigating whether a fire that swept through a Redmond apartment building early Saturday, killing a 32-year-old man and four young boys, was caused by ashes left smoldering in the bathroom.

David Thompson and his wife, Lilly Reasor, 31, had spent part of Friday night celebrating the New Year by smoking marijuana in the bathroom of their ground-level home in the Sammamish Ridge Apartments, according to a law-enforcement source close to the investigation. Reasor also was smoking cigarettes in the bathroom and flicking ashes into a wastebasket, the source said.

Along with a neighbor who was visiting Friday night, the couple drank beer while the children played in the living room. The neighbor, Belinda Phelps, who confirmed she had given the account of the evening to law-enforcement officials, said the couple returned to the bathroom to smoke several times.

When the adults finished smoking marijuana, Thompson stashed the pipe and ashes in a travel bag and hung it on a hook on the back of the bathroom door, Phelps said. The bathroom fan was left on, apparently to get rid of the pot smell, authorities said.

But around 2:30 a.m., well after the party had ended, fire erupted, killing Thompson and the children. Reasor ran from the apartment screaming, although it was unclear how she managed to escape.

Phelps said the oldest boy attended Rose Hill Junior High School, and that the other children ranged in age from 2 to 6, with at least one attending Benjamin Rush Elementary School.

A friend of Thompson's, Terron Neville of Colorado Springs, Colo., said the mother of one of the four boys is Thompson's ex-wife in Colorado Springs, and that Thompson has two other children living in Colorado from the previous marriage.

The ex-wife, Chandra Kroeckel, identified the oldest boy killed as her son, Tristan Thompson, 12.

"A lot of wonderful lives were taken out of this world," Kroeckel said, sobbing. "My heart just goes out to my son's stepmother because she lost her husband and also her children."

Kroeckel identified the other children as David, 6, Leviticus, 4, and Wyatt, who recently turned 2.

The fire appears to be accidental. Investigators say they are looking at either of two causes: smoldering marijuana ashes in the travel bag or cigarette ashes flicked into a bathroom wastepaper basket.

Phelps said she had told Reasor to stop flicking her ashes into the trash can, which was filled with tissue and other paper products, but that Reasor had told her that bath tissue was not flammable.

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Phelps said she returned to her apartment around 1 a.m., later awakening to Reasor's frantic cries.

Later, as the fire spread, witnesses had to keep Reasor from heading back into the burning apartment. Reasor suffered minor injures and was in stable condition Sunday at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland.

Investigators from Redmond police and fire departments, the State Patrol and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives returned to the complex Sunday morning to continue searching for clues.

The building was still off-limits to residents, Redmond police Officer Greg Twentey said.

On Sunday night, Kroeckel said Thompson had spoken on the phone on New Year's Eve with their 10-year-old daughter and had mentioned to the girl that he had smelled gas in the apartment and was going to check into it.

But Twentey said accelerant-sniffing dogs and crews of investigators have been scouring the scene for two days and that he hasn't heard anything about a possible gas leak.

Police and fire crews will continue their investigation Monday, he said.

"Everybody is working on evidence collection and processing the scene," Twentey said.

What is known is that the fire spread rapidly.

Jared Wilson, who lives on the building's third floor, said only about 30 seconds elapsed from the time he first heard shouting until his apartment was surrounded by heavy smoke and he was forced to flee. He said he saw Reasor as he ran down the stairwell.

Wilson said he and another resident grabbed a fire extinguisher and "at that point, the whole place just went up."

Firefighters battled flames from the first-story unit, but the fire spread to all three floors of the building, according to a joint news release from the Redmond fire and police departments.

Twelve apartment units were evacuated; all displaced residents have found emergency shelter.

There were smoke detectors but no sprinklers in the building, built in the mid-1980s before sprinklers were required, Redmond police spokesman Matt Peringer said. "It appears the alarms did go off because people reported hearing them."

The Thompson family apparently had been struggling financially the past few years, after losing a house in Colorado and moving to Redmond.

Terron Neville, the friend of Thompson, said he met Thompson a decade ago in Colorado Springs, where the two worked for a moving company called Two Men and A Truck.

After Thompson left the moving company, he tried to start a business, but it didn't work out, Neville said. He said Thompson and Reasor moved to Seattle with the children to start over.

Thompson, who had been married to Reasor for about six years, always wanted to have a big family, Neville said.

Thompson's parents, who live in a suburb outside Colorado Springs, left for Seattle on Saturday.

"He was a down-to-earth kind of guy, very nice, honest," Neville said. "You couldn't ask for a better person to have in your corner."

Phelps, the neighbor, said Thompson had been doing maintenance work at the complex and that Reasor was a stay-at-home mother who previously had worked at Mor Furniture.

Danielle VanAusdale, administrator for Mor Furniture in Kent, said the mother had worked for about six months in the children's department.

The mother was quiet, except when she "talked a lot about her family," VanAusdale said.

The couple filed for bankruptcy protection in Seattle in March, according to court records. Their bankruptcy attorney, Tom Hyde, said he met with them on several occasions as part of the proceedings, describing them as devoted parents who were apologetic for bringing their children with them because they had no one to look after them.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk and staff reporter Sandi Doughton contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or ntsong@seattletimes.com

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