Five Dead In South Carolina Fire; Homicide And Arson Suspected

Police suspect arson and homicide in a house fire in which five people died early Monday.

Police suspect arson and homicide in a house fire in which five people died early Monday.

"We are now considering these deaths as potential homicides and the fire as suspicious," Capt. Glenn Williams of the York County Sheriff's Office confirmed Monday. "One of the (police) dogs found an accelerant inside the main bedroom where the bodies were found."

Authorities were withholding identities of the five removed from the home, pending the completion of autopsies late Monday. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant would only confirm the dead as being three children and two adults.

"We think we know who they are, but we just can't say until the autopsy results are back," Bryant said as he surveyed the exterior of the rental house about a mile south of Lake Wylie. "It's a bad scene in there."

The single-story house at 4053 Crestview Drive was rented to Jose Denis Meza, 39, according to landlord Lou Zike . Meza was charged July 16 with fondling his eldest daughter and had been ordered to move out of the home. He worked as a landscaper.

Rock Hill school officials identified the three Meza children as son, Jairo, 5, and daughters Denise, 8, and Denia, 14. The two youngest were enrolled to attend Mount Gallant Elementary and the eldest at Rawlinson Road Middle School. None of the children reported to school when classes started Thursday, school officials said. School officials didn't know the mother's name.

Law enforcement officials said it appeared no one in the house attempted to escape from the burning home. All five bodies were recovered in the same bedroom. Two children were found in one bed and one child on another bed. The adults were found on the floor.

A smoke detector at the house was working when firefighters responded to a kitchen fire about a month ago, York County Fire Marshall Randy Thompson said.

On May 3, the S.C. Department of Social Services called the York County Sheriff's Office to report possible sexual abuse in the family. Meza was accused of fondling daughter Denia, according to a sheriff's report.

The complaint was DSS's first involving the Meza family, said Virginia Williamson, DSS's general counsel.

Both parents agreed Meza should move out, and he did, Williamson said. In July he was charged with two counts of committing a lewd act upon a minor.

The abuse took place between December 2000 and December 2003 at a home on Sidney Johnson Street in Fort Mill, according to arrest warrants.

Meza was released on a $20,000 bond on condition that he not have any contact with the victim. The father had told police he was staying in Charlotte where the family's relatives lived.

Before moving to the Rock Hill area home, the family lived in the two-bedroom mill house in Fort Mill, according to neighbors. The father had told neighbor Sandra Locke that they moved to a bigger home because Denia wanted a room of her own, Locke said.

On Monday, Bryant confirmed that Meza's pickup was found in the family's driveway after the fire.

Bryant said it was the worst multiple-death incident he'd investigated in 25 years of law enforcement in York County. It was also the deadliest house fire in the Charlotte region since 1998, when a Mooresville grandfather and his four grandchildren died of smoke inhalation in a fire started by a bathroom heater.

He said a cause of the fire would not be known until the arson investigation is completed. But neighbors reported some sort of explosion -- possibly a front window from built-up heat -- "plus, there were combustibles inside the home." Bryant said all options were still being considered, including arson and murder-suicide.

Next door neighbor Randy Wolfgang said he was awakened shortly after 3 a.m. by what sounded like "some kind of a commotion followed by a bang, like soft thunder." His wife, Kristin, called 911.

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