Site of deadly fire destroyed last week
Lauren Branas, Hartselle Enquirer
On a sweltering July 28 afternoon last year, a family of three died of smoke inhalation in the bathroom of their second story Quail Run apartment.
They were caught behind two doors and one window, all blocked by the fast-spreading fire. No one knew they were trapped inside–until it was too late.
Hartselle police, along with Alabama State Fire Marshall investigators, believe the fire was started by Joshua Harris, who was 19 at the time of the fire. Harris allegedly was angry with his girlfriend, April Terry, the tenant of apartment C-7, and decided to burn a Polaroid picture of her. The picture landed on a cloth recliner on the balcony and ignited the chair. With a little help from an ill-placed breeze, the wood-sided apartment quickly became engulfed in flames.
For almost a year, the burnt remains of the apartment stood as an eerie reminder to the citizens of Quail Run. Furniture, clothes and an assortment of abandoned household items littered the rubble. Now the old building is being leveled and people might finally have some closure.
Jerry Turner, a resident of Quail Run for five years, remembers the scene vividly. He witnessed Russ Beard, the coroner, take the charred bodies out the apartment that night.
"I was there and it was about 10:30 p.m. I saw their bodies coming down. It makes it hard for me to forget," Turner said. "Now that the building is gone it's a big relief on everybody that lives here. No one can forget this tragedy, especially because there was an infant involved."
Harris went in front of 18 citizens and District Attorney Bob Burrell so it could be decided whether there was enough evidence to indict him. An indictment would have allowed authorities to press criminal charges. However, the panel decided to drop the bill of indictment and he was never charged.
"We did everything we could to make sure he was taken to court," Capt. Ron Puckett said. "We were disappointed, but respect the decision of the court."
After the failed indictment, the State Fire Marshal's office released a report indicating that a second fire may have been set by Harris. The investigation revealed a pile of men's clothing in the middle of the floor in Terry's apartment. There was a deep, heavily charred area around it similar to charring found where a flammable or combustible liquid had been poured and ignited.
Whatever the cause, an infant and his parents are dead. Mario and Maria Salazar and their son, Kevin, lost their lives to the red hot flames that also left nine families homeless, destroyed the apartment building and heavily damaged three nearby cars. Mario Salazar worked for his brother at El Portal restaurant. After the fire, some alleged Mario Salazar wasn't in the country legally. That shouldn't matter, Puckett said.
"Even if he was illegal, he still has rights as a human being," Puckett said. "Now all the family wants is reimbursement."
That reimbursement may come in the form of a lawsuit. However, City Attorney Larry Madison said he couldn't comment on the suit, but said a claim was filed and the city's insurance company is handling it.
Jeff Bowen, the insurance claims adjuster for the case, declined to comment.
"There are still things up in the air about that fire," Turner said. "There's no question about that."