Woman Dies In Suspicious Gulfport House Fire - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Woman Dies In Suspicious Gulfport House Fire

Behind a front yard oak tree on Pineland was a small wood framed house. Black soot covered a portion of its siding. Somtime overnight, fire tore through the front living room.

Coroner Gary Hargrove joined Gulfport police and fire investigators when they entered the charred house four hours after the first ignited.

"They found a body along with a dog in the front room," the coroner said.

The so far unidentified woman in the house didn't survive. Neither did her dog.

"We're going to treat it as a suspicious type death until we can prove otherwise," said Hargrove.

Two neighbors on this rather unassuming street just north of Pass Road/28th Street intersection didn't have many good things to say about 2908 Pineland Avenue. They both called it a "crack house."

One complained about cars from that property crashing into her house, and running over her mailbox. Gulfport's police chief confirmed that there was frequent drug activity at the residence. But he wasn't sure if police had ever made arrests there.

Suspicions surfaced about the house fire shortly after investigators arrived on the scene. Not only did they have their own drug activity information, they learned the electricity at the Pineland Avenue home hadn't been on for quite some time. That information, and a Thursday morning police report about a dog bite at the home, raised red flags.

"The police department had received a call earlier in the evening," Hargrove said. "Like I always do, I always treat every death as a homicide and just work my way through it. And that's what we're going to do here."

Thursday evening, Gulfport Police arrested 50-year-old Donald Kerley and charged him with capital murder. Police say their investigation revealed the fire was intentionally set.

Kerley is being held in the Harrison County Jail without bond.

So far, the coroner hasn't released the name of the victim. But Gary Hargrove says the cause of death was smoke inhalation.

by Brad Kessie

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