Man charged with murder for allegedly setting fire that left three children and man dead in South Chicago


Reginald Hester | Chicago Police

Reginald Hester | Chicago Police

A man has been charged with murder and arson for the apartment building fire that left four people, including three children, dead three weeks ago in the South Chicago neighborhood.

Reginald Hester, 51, faces four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson causing bodily harm, according to Chicago Police.

The blaze was reported at 1:36 a.m. Aug. 23 in a three-story, courtyard apartment building in the 8100 block of South Essex, according to the Chicago Fire Department. It was later upgraded to a three-alarm fire.

Melanie Watson | Facebook

Melanie Watson | Facebook

Fire officials reported heavy fire on the second and third floors, and the building’s stairwells were deemed impassable.

A 3-month-old girl who lived in the building, Melanie Watson, was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:40 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy showed she died from injuries from a fall from height, and smoke inhalation

Shaniya Staples | Facebook

Shaniya Staples | Facebook

The other victims—Madison Watson, 4; Shaniya Staples, 7; and Kirk Johnson, 56—were found dead inside the building after the fire was extinguished. Autopsies have ruled they died of burns and smoke inhalation.

All four deaths were ruled homicides, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Madison Watson | Facebook

Madison Watson | Facebook

The children were found in one apartment, but were not together, fire officials said at the time. Johnson was in a different apartment. All were on the third floor.

A 45-year-old man was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, authorities said. Witnesses at the scene told reporters the man jumped from a third-floor window with Melanie Watson in his arms. Another injured man, 36, was taken to South Shore Hospital in fair-to-serious condition, fire officials said.

Kirk Johnson | Facebook

Kirk Johnson | Facebook

Hester, who lives in the 8000 block of South Essex, was questioned immediately after the blaze, but was released two days later. He was arrested again about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday in the first block of South Waller.

He was scheduled to appear in bond court Wednesday.

The building, managed at the time by Villa Capital Properties, failed an annual inspection in November 2015 from the city’s Department of Buildings, according to city records. Inspectors issued building code citations in part because they couldn’t access “most dwelling units” to verify smoke detectors and conditions. Also, mice droppings were found in one apartment, a porch was found to be defective or missing parts, and a stairway needed repairs.

A spokesman for Villa Capital Properties said the building was sold in April. Property records on file with the Cook County Recorder indicate the building was sold to EquityBuild in April and that the company took out a $3.3 million mortgage on the property in April.

John Landry, general counsel for EquityBuild, said Tuesday morning he was unaware of the fire and declined comment. Joel Feingold, who identified himself as a sales consultant for EquityBuild, also said he had not heard about the fire, but expressed sympathy for tenants.

blog comments powered by Disqus