DES MOINES, Iowa -- A retired Des Moines police officer said he will never forget the day in 1977 when five people were killed in an apartment building fire.
Ronald Veverka, 71, was convicted of killing five people when he set a fatal 1977 fire at the Coronado apartment complex in Des Moines.
Two years ago, Gov. Tom Vilsack commuted Veverka's five life sentences.
Veverka testified before a parole board last month, and the board gave him final approval.
Veverka is an admitted alcoholic who said that at the time of the fire, he was staggering drunk and tried to light a cigarette.
NewsChannel 8's Geoff Greenwood talked with the first officer at the scene of the fire about what he saw and thinks about Veverka's release.
Retired Des Moines police Major Russ Underwood was just beginning his career as a foot patrol officer assigned to Des Moines' Sherman Hill neighborhood.
On Feb. 9, 1977, when the fire call came down, he was just seconds away from the Coronado apartment building.
"There was a person leaning out of the top story window, trying to catch his breath. Smoke was bellowing out of the window. And you could see him sticking his head just beyond the smoke, trying to get air, and he then ended up either falling or jumping," Underwood recalled.
That man survived, but several people did not.
In Underwood's scrapbook that spans his career, the newspaper headline said that four people died that day. A child died later. Underwood said he will never forget seeing that child and a mother who tried to get out.
"She came out holding a child. And just as she got out there and the firefighters were trying to get ladders up to it, the window exploded underneath the grate and flames came up, and she was burnt to death right in front of everybody," Underwood said.
Upon exiting prison Wednesday, Veverka told NewsChannel 8 that he will never forget what he did.
Underwood said he'll never forget, either, and that he will never understand why Veverka was freed.
"I think it's too bad. Most people have been told that life means life, and obviously life does not mean life anymore," Underwood said.
On Wednesday morning, NewsChannel 8 spoke briefly with a man who escaped that fire. He said that he thought Veverka served enough time.
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07-05-2006, 10:25 PM #1
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- Feb 2006
Retired Officer Reacts To Convicted Arsonist's Release
07-08-2006, 10:58 AM #2
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- Jun 2006
how sad. that person deserved to spend the rest of his natural life in prison.
I would put money down taht with in the first three months out- he will be drunk, and because of the way parole works, he will be slapped on the wrist, and told to behave. It takes a couple of violations even to get the revoke process in swing- much less to get him back where he deserves to be.
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