Jeep fire no accident

But officials say blaze isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation
Friday, January 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

The Columbia woman who was badly burned Monday in a vehicle fire survived her second round of surgeries Thursday. Meanwhile, investigators have ruled that the fire was intentionally set using an accelerant.

“We eliminated unintentional causes such as mechanical failure,” said Steven Sapp, battalion chief with the Columbia Fire Department. “So we drew the conclusion that it was an intentionally set fire.”

Mary Ann Baker was found Monday outside her residence at 1515 Stone St. engulfed in flames next to her Jeep Cherokee, which was also on fire. According to Baker’s oldest daughter, Heather Ricketts, Baker was severely depressed and had not taken her medicine for at least two weeks.

“When she isn’t taking her medicine, she gets to the point where she becomes a person that we don’t know,” Ricketts said. “She was staying with us, and we were taking care of her and were trying to get her to take her medicine. But she’s an adult, and we can’t force her. We tried so many times to get her to the hospital; we were trying to help her. So we went ahead and made her a doctor’s appointment, which was next week.”

Sapp said an accelerant was used and contributed to the rapid progress of the fire. A container “typically used to store gasoline” was also found inside the car, Sapp said.

“We are in the process of sending some of the evidence we’ve collected to the state crime lab for testing that identifies the type of accelerant used,” Sapp said.

As far as Ricketts knows, Baker had never tried to harm herself before.

“If this was my mom on her medicine, she would have never done this to herself, but since she was not medicated, I can see her trying to harm herself,” Ricketts said.

Court documents show that Baker divorced Juan Coronado Leija in November. Sapp said that Coronado Leija is not a suspect and that there is no criminal investigation in the case.

“CPD detectives talked with him and he has witnesses that place him at an out-of-town location at the time of the fire,” Sapp said. “There is nothing that leads us to believe that foul play was involved.”

However, investigators have not ruled out self-inflicted harm.

“We can’t determine whether or not she set this fire intentionally to do harm to herself or to destroy the vehicle or what her reason was behind setting this fire,” Sapp said.

Ricketts said it’s hard to believe her mother would have set the fire.

“She must have been really out of it. We don’t know her when she’s like that, when she’s not medicated,” she said. “I wanted it to be an accident, but I knew deep down inside that it probably wasn’t.”

Investigators will not know exactly what happened until they can interview Baker.

“Our investigation has gone about as far as it can go until we hear from Mary Ann Coronado Leija Baker,” Sapp said.

Baker was still listed in critical condition at University Hospital Thursday night.

“When my mom’s on her medicine she’s the best person there is,” Ricketts said. “I’m a single mom, and she helped me take care of my daughter. My mom was another mother to her.”

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