Detective Testifies Fire Death was a Homicide in Illinois

A fire at a Wood River boarding house that killed a man was intentionally set, a detective testified during a coroner's inquest Wednesday.

In an unrelated case, the coroner's jury determined the death of a 6-year-old girl in an Alton house fire Jan. 2 was a homicide.

Wood River Detective Sgt. Otis Steward testified the death of Wood River boarder Douglas E. Kibby, 30, is being investigated by police as a homicide. The coroner's jury ruled Kibby's death was a homicide.

"The fire was incendiary in nature, caused by a person or persons unknown, using an open flame to ignite available combustible materials," Steward testified. "The fire originated on the first floor, inside the owner's, Teresa Stephens, apartment."

The fire broke out Aug. 17 and caused the collapse of the 19-unit boarding house. Firefighters were unable to rescue Kibby from a window of his residence.

No one has been charged in connection with the fire.

Steward declined comment on whether Stephens was home at the time of the fire, but added that investigators are not aware of anyone else being in her apartment. The detective said Wood River Police and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are trying to determine a motive.

Later Wednesday, Stephens, in a telephone interview, said she wasn't home at the time of the fire.

"I wasn't home when the fire started, and I don't know who would do it," she said. "My first thought was my (clothes) dryer."

When asked why authorities would suspect the fire was intentionally set in her apartment, Stephens said: "I have no idea."

Kibby's mother, Carrolle Kibby of Chester, attended the inquest, as did an attorney, Michael McGlynn, who represents Douglas Kibby's estate.

"It's been probably the most ... just a mother's nightmare," Carrolle Kibby said. "It's painful, and to know that someone could be responsible for it is painful."

McGlynn said Kibby's family is "gratified that the investigators have taken it so seriously."

Steward said ATF agents still are analyzing material recovered from the scene.

Douglas Kibby died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation.

In another inquest Wednesday, the jury determined that 6-year-old Leah Phipps' death in an Alton house fire Jan. 2 was a homicide.

Phipps' mother, Tracy Lancaster, 41, of Alton has been charged with murder in connection with Leah's death.

Alton Police Detective Jason Simmons testified that neighbors heard Lancaster saying "I killed my baby" after Lancaster escaped from her burning home.

Simmons said investigators determined the fire started at a Christmas tree, and the tree's lights had not been on, contrary to a statement given by Lancaster. Simmons also said the girl's father, Carl Phipps, told police he was at Lancaster's home shortly before the fire, and she talked about setting the Christmas tree on fire to collect insurance money because she had lost her job and was behind on her bills.

Simmons said a relative of Lancaster later gave police similar information. Lancaster told police she awoke when a smoke alarm activated, but the alarm had no batteries in it, Simmons said.

Lancaster's mother, Rebecca Lancaster, said after the inquest she does not suspect her daughter of murder. Rebecca Lancaster said the statement her daughter made to neighbors may have been made in a different context -- that she felt bad about not being able to rescue the girl.

Tracy Lancaster was hospitalized for weeks because of burns she suffered and was in an induced coma for a while.

Distributed by the Associated Press

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