Charges Dismissed in Worcester Fire Case

B O S T O N, Sept. 20, 2000 -- A judge dismissed manslaughter charges against ahomeless couple who allegedly started a blaze that killed sixWorcester firefighters in December.

Thomas Levesque and Julie Barnes had each been charged with sixcounts of manslaughter, but the charges were dismissed by JudgeTimothy Hillman. His 15-page decision was dated Tuesday and released.

Worcester District Attorney John Conte didn’t immediately returna message seeking comment.

Levesque and Barnes pleaded innocent to starting the Dec. 3 fireat the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. Authorities saidthe couple, who had been squatting in the building, knocked over acandle during a fight and then left without reporting the resultingfire.

The Heroics of the Firefighters

Two firefighters became lost while looking for homeless peoplethey thought may have been inside the warehouse. Four more firefighterswent in to find them, and all six perished.

It was the country’s worst loss of firefighters’ life from abuilding fire in more than 20 years. President Clinton and VicePresident Al Gore joined 40,000 other mourners at the memorialservice.

In dismissing the case, the judge said there was not enoughevidence of the crime of manslaughter, said Edward P. Ryan, anattorney for Levesque. The defense said the defendants’ actionswould have to be “wanton and reckless” to be consideredinvoluntary manslaughter, and the judge agreed.

“Despite the tragic results, the conduct of these defendantsdid not rise to the level of wanton and reckless behavior,”Hillman wrote.

He said the indictments must be dismissed because “no rationalview of the evidence” would lead someone to conclude that therewas cause to arrest the two.

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