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Columbia apartment complex had history of smoke detector problems

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Columbia apartment complex where two children died in a fire last week had a history of problems with smoke detectors.

And records don't show that the unit where the fire happened had been recently inspected.

An early morning fire on Dec. 14 killed 4-year-old Ta'niyah Pate and 7-year-old J'nyeisha Washington. Inspection records and internal memos show city inspectors noted multiple issues with smoke detectors at various units in 2021. Records provided by the city through an open records request do not show inspectors having checked the specific unit where the fire took place.

Columbia Fire Chief Clayton Farr Jr. told reporters on Dec. 14 that the unit had only one non-working smoke detector on the first floor. The city requires smoke detectors in hallways outside bedrooms, as well. Despite this, the apartment complex received its certificate of compliance with city codes in November 2021.

Records obtained by ABC 17 News show that city inspectors only checked some of the 128 units at Columbia Square Townhomes as part of the 2021 inspection process. That's because property management group Yarco invoked a city rule allowing complexes with 30 or more dwelling units to ask inspectors only check 30% of the units there.

Inspector David Brockhouse noted in his April inspection problems with 14 randomly selected units. Of those 14, eight of them had issues with smoke detectors, ranging from detectors without batteries to totally missing detectors. Brockhouse scheduled another inspection for June, where he would check another group of randomly-selected apartments.

The records provided do not show that the unit where Pate and Washington died was ever checked.

Yarco sent the city proof of several repairs on April 29, which included the replacement and installation of several smoke detectors.

Brockhouse ordered on June 16, 2021, that Yarco replace any smoke detector more than a decade old at units both inspected and not inspected. Brockhouse also wrote an internal memo that afternoon voicing his concern with the lack of fire safety devices.

"The inspection of the additional units indicate many other units have not yet had old smoke alarms replaced," Brockhouse said. "All units did have fire extinguishers but they still need to be mounted."

The city did not provide any records that Yarco complied with that request to check and replace old smoke detectors. Community Development director Tim Teddy, who oversees code compliance inspectors, said on Thursday that the property manager called Brockhouse to tell him they had replaced the old smoke detectors.

"The inspector did a random inspection of units and did not find any further violations," Teddy said.

Representatives at Yarco did not respond to a request for comment on if it did check all the units for old smoke detectors.

Brockhouse had scheduled a Sept. 16 inspection to follow up. The city did not provide the results of that follow-up or any evidence that it took place.

The records provided show that the city did grant Columbia Square Apartments its certificate of compliance in November 2021. The certificate is valid until November 2023.

Fire investigators are still looking into what caused the fire that killed Pate and Washington. Firefighters said they were two of 12 people inside the unit at the time. Eleven of those present were children.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates

Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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