Saturday, November 18, 2017
Public safety

'Homicidal violence' kills two men found amid St. Petersburg house fire

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ST. PETERSBURG — Police homicide detectives are investigating how two men died amid a suspicious blaze in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood Sunday afternoon.

The men, whose names and ages have not been released, died of "homicidal violence," a St. Petersburg police spokesman said, declining to provide details.

The blaze occurred about 1:30 p.m. at 2635 Fourth Ave. N, a single-family, one-story house built in 1930 and last sold in 2010.

A victim's vehicle was missing from the scene, detectives learned. Police were looking for a black, 2004 Ford pickup truck with a personalized license plate of "AREK," which is also painted on the front of the truck.

The tailgate has two devil horns painted on each side of the Ford emblem. A devil's tail is also under the emblem, police said.

Anyone with information on the pickup's location was asked to call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780.

Arson investigators and crime scene technicians spent hours combing through the home for evidence. An arson dog was brought in to help.

Weather was not a factor in causing the blaze, said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Joel Granata.

"It's a little unusual in the middle of the day," Granata said two hours after the blaze started. "There are a lot of things odd in this situation."

He declined to elaborate on the "oddities and suspicious" things connected to the fire.

When firefighters arrived, they found one man already dead in the burning structure, Granata said. The other male victim was found hours later under rubble in the laundry room.

Firefighters had to exit the home because intense heat caused the roof to collapse, Granata added. None of the firefighters was injured.

The blaze appeared to have started in the rear of the home near the laundry room and kitchen.

One victim, a friend of the owner, was staying at the house, Granata said.

The owner was not at home at the time of the fire, but returned to find the house ablaze.

A man identified by neighbors as the homeowner stood behind police tape with his partner and hugged friends as they arrived.

He declined to speak with reporters.

After speaking to police officers several times, the man waved goodbye to firefighters drinking bottled water on the rear of a fire engine. He and his partner left down Fourth Avenue.

Laura Bechtel, who lives three doors away from the burned home, has never talked to the owner.

Her 8-year-old daughter, Stella, was playing with friends in the back yard of another house and spotted smoke spewing from the bungalow.

After Stella alerted Bechtel, she darted outside and learned that someone else had already called 911.

Firefighters, she said, arrived within minutes. By that time, the home was engulfed in flames.

"It's very, very surreal," Bechtel said. "It's a sad way to meet your neighbors. We watched as it burned."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

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