A Los Angeles woman was charged Thursday with two counts of murder for allegedly setting a fire at an Exposition Park boarding house that killed a caretaker and her brother.
Khala Swasey, 24, a former resident of the home that burned, is expected to be arraigned sometime Thursday afternoon on two counts of murder stemming from the Aug. 22 fire in the 1000 block of West Leighton Avenue. The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of an arson, opening her to a possible death sentence.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek the death penalty.
Firefighters sent to 1084 W. Leighton Ave. about 12:45 a.m. Aug. 22 found a building engulfed in flames, and they received reports that people were still inside the burning structure, according to Nicholas Prange of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
A search team found one person inside the home in grave condition, and as they were pulling the patient out, a second person was found just inside the rear exit of the home, also in grave condition, Prange said.
George Harris, 66, died at a hospital that day, as did Yolanda McGruder, 53, according to the coroner’s office.
The owner of the home, Jason Hinds, told NBC4 the two victims were a caregiver and her brother.
“She was unresponsive when they brought her out and they were doing chest compressions on both of them,” Hinds said.
Hinds lived in the home with his wife and two children and told the station most of the people who lived in the home have mental health issues. His wife and children were not hurt.
During the rescue, an engineer working at a pump panel to provide water to firefighters heard reports of multiple patients being rescued and ran to the rear of the home to help pull them out, Prange said. The engineer suffered minor smoke inhalation and was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
A total of 53 firefighters extinguished the blaze in 34 minutes, but officials said the home may not have had working smoke detectors.
“Unfortunately, the preliminary right now is that we did not hear any smoke alarms when our firefighters were initially on scene,” LAFD Capt. Cody Weireter told reporters at the scene.
Los Angeles Police Department Capt. William Hayes said Swasey was arrested Tuesday in Pasadena. There was no immediate information on a possible motive for the crime or what led investigators to her.