Archive for Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Investigators continue arson probe

December 26, 2001

State investigators are still looking at arson as the likely cause of a fire that destroyed the Basehor shopping complex.

However, an insurance investigator for one of the businesses found no signs of foul play when examining the building last week.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, the shopping complex at 155th Street and State Avenue in Basehor caught fire, destroying some of the businesses while leaving others with smoke and water damage.

At least three businesses, Bichelmeyer's Grocery, Rumsey's Retail Liquor and Pat's Shampoo and Beauty Salon, will not reopen, the owners said.

Larry Scott, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the ATF is still investigating the blaze as an arson.

"Our investigators are trained experts in the field and there's no change," Scott said. "I'd put ourguys up against anybody's."

Investigators would not comment on whether there were any suspects and declined to discuss details of the investigation because it is still on-going.

Scott said evidence from the building has been sent to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation laboratory for analysis. Scott said there is no timetable for when the lab results will come back, he said.

Although the ATF is claiming arson, Mark Bichelmeyer, owner of Bichelmeyer's Grocery, said his insurance investigator couldn't find any signs of the alleged criminal act.

"He said he didn't see anything that said it was arson," Bichelmeyer said.

Bichelmeyer said he doubted the fire was set purposely.

"It just doesn't make sense," Bichelmeyer said. "It just doesn't add up. Some of the businesses were still open and there were cars in the parking lot.

"Hopefully the ATF can find out one way or the other."

The fire started at approximately 2:30 p.m. in the storeroom of the Keepsakes Gift store, in the northeast section of the building. The gift shop was closed at the time.

Basehor city officials said they also had a hard time believing the fire was set deliberately.

"My feeling is that it is not arson," Basehor Mayor Bill Hooker said. "I think the fire marshal ruled that too quickly."

If the fire was arson, Hooker said he hopes the guilty party is found.

City officials said the building most likely had its last fire inspection in 1972, when it was first built.

A $5,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the fire.

Anyone with information should call the KBI hotline at 1-800-KS-CRIME or the Basehor Police Department at (913) 724-1371.

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