Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fatal fire at Potbellies restaurant remains under investigation, and has raised questions about other blazes

TAMPA — A woman died in an apartment fire March 22 above a South Tampa restaurant. The next day, Tampa Fire Rescue said the blaze did not appear to be suspicious.

But, nearly three months later, the Fire Marshal's Office has not formally ruled on the cause of the blaze.

Instead, the office reopened an investigation into at least one earlier fire at the restaurant, Potbellies on Himes Avenue.

The building has caught fire three times in four years, according to city records.

Sam Lovely owns the building and operates the restaurant. His brother, Roger Lovely, said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times that he gave a sworn statement to Tampa fire marshal investigator Ray Alcover and provided information about two previous fires.

Roger Lovely's statement led the Fire Marshal's Office to take a closer look at the restaurant's fire history, Alcover confirmed. The investigator spoke briefly about the case earlier this week but declined to comment further. He would not say what Lovely told him.

"It is an active investigation," Alcover said. "We are actively interviewing people."

Fire Marshal Geoff Brown would not discuss the case.

"I can't tell you anything except that all this stuff is under investigation," he said.

The first of the three fires at issue occurred on Sept. 11, 2005. The fire marshal concluded it started when a food warming table caught fire. Sam Lovely says a paper tablecloth accidentally caught fire from a burner.

A month later, on Oct. 17, 2005, fire destroyed Potbellies' bar area. Fire marshal investigator Al Alcala found an electrical short in the ceiling breaker panel, a Tampa Fire Rescue report states.

The most recent fire, after midnight March 22, killed 48-year-old Kathy Alm, who lived alone in one of two apartments above the restaurant.

Three adults and two children reached safety. One man ran outside and caught his sister and 16-month-old niece, as they dropped from a second-story window, witnesses said at the time.

Alm screamed from her window for help before she died of smoke inhalation, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.

A Hillsborough County medical examiner's investigative report said the fire blocked her escape. Survivors said she may have saved them by banging on the walls before she perished.

A Tampa police report said it appeared the fire started at an entryway in the northeast corner of the second floor.

Potbellies, a South Tampa brunch staple, sits on Himes Avenue behind Britton Plaza in a 4,782-square-foot building with masonry and frame stucco for exterior walls, wood trusses that support the roof, drywall and plywood paneling inside, carpet and tile on the floor and central air conditioning. It is worth more than $550,000, according to Hillsborough County property records.

Sam Lovely said squabbles between Roger Lovely and his twin brother Rodney may have led Roger to make allegations to the Fire Marshal's Office. Rodney Lovely has worked at the South Tampa Potbellies.

"If you don't take his side, he's mad at you," Sam Lovely said. "I'm 45 years old. I don't have time for this petty c---. I have a restaurant to run."

Roger Lovely owns another restaurant in Brandon with the similar name Pot Bellies.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Fatal fire at Potbellies restaurant remains under investigation, and has raised questions about other blazes 06/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 1:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. After offseason of work hard, play hard, DeSean Jackson ready to produce for Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — There's no telling what DeSean Jackson will do once he gets a football in his hands. Perhaps that's why a camera crew followed his every move Wednesday while the Bucs' new $30 million receiver stood on a step of the hot tub that empties into a spacious, azure pool at his new, sprawling five-bedroom home in …

    DeSean Jackson jokes around with girlfriend Kayla Phillips at their Tampa home as a crew from HBO’s Hard Knocks documents their day.
  2. Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history.

    President Donald Trump embraces Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the East Room of the White House during an announcement Wednesday that Foxconn is going to build a plant in Wisconsin.
  3. Playoff chase heats up for Rays with key series at Yankees up first (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (11) and Tim Beckham (1) celebrate the double play to end the top of the sixth inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  5. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, it better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher it can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]