Jeep fire remains a mystery

The woman’s injuries are so severe that she can’t explain to police what happened.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:23 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Michelle Ricketts, daughter of Mary Coronado-Leija Baker, and Michelle’s stepmother Angela Ricketts arrived to a horrific scene when they turned onto Stone Street on Monday.

“Michelle and I went over to visit with her; we pulled up on everything,” said Angela Ricketts, a longtime friend of Baker’s. “She was already gone, but the detectives and police officers and everybody were still there. We didn’t know what had happened, so it was a pretty big shock.”

Baker was severely burned Monday morning in an automobile fire in front of her apartment at 1515 Stone St. The longtime Columbia resident was found engulfed in flames 10 feet from her Jeep Cherokee Laredo by Columbia police officer Sean Moore.

Baker was listed Tuesday evening in critical condition at University Hospital. She was scheduled for surgery earlier Tuesday.

“She’s a great person and doesn’t deserve this,” Ricketts said. “No one does. It’s a horrible thing.”

Capt. Steven Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department said officials have not determined the cause of the fire, but information from Baker would be helpful to the investigation.

“Her injuries are so severe that she cannot speak to us,” Sapp said. “We don’t believe at this time that the fire was intentional. Foul play is unlikely, and the family doesn’t believe she had any reason to harm herself.”

Ricketts and her sister-in-law Pam Ricketts identified Baker at University Hospital on Monday.

“The hospital asked for a couple of people to identify her,” Ricketts said. “The children were just so upset they asked that we do it. We said her name and she nodded her head like she was saying ‘yes.’ ”

No one is sure what Baker was doing before the accident.

“My husband had dropped her off at home about 20 to 8 a.m. on his way to work,” Ricketts said. “She had stayed over here the day before taking care of me because I was sick with pneumonia. Whatever happened, happened between then and 11 o’clock.”

Ricketts said Baker is a homemaker who occasionally works part time cleaning houses. She is a diabetic on disability. “It caused some problems with her feet, with walking,” Ricketts said.

The fire originated in the passenger area of the vehicle, which includes everything between the dashboard and the backseat, Sapp said. He said anything from a bad starter to a wiring problem could cause a fire in the interior of a vehicle.

“The Jeep was disabled for several weeks,” Sapp said. “There’s a number of theories and possibilities out there.”

Ricketts said the Jeep had a flat tire and Baker had not driven it in a couple of weeks.

Baker is the mother of three children, Heather, 22, Michelle, 21, and Brian Ricketts, 19, and is grandmother to one.

“She loves children,” Ricketts said. “Her granddaughter is her pride and joy.”

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