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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fatal Motel Fire Blamed on Janitor’s Incense

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - Two college students died in a motel fire sparked by a maintenance man's incense, the families say in a complaint against the Days Inn South, its owner-manager and the maintenance man. The families say the fatal Jan. 16 fire was started when the janitor, an undocumented immigrant, left incense burning unattended on a prayer shrine in his room.

Cousins Alondan "Angel" Turner and Catherine Anne Muse checked into the Days Inn after a day of shopping in Birmingham. They were accompanied by two other students from the Mississippi University for Women, according to the complaint in Jefferson County Court.

The families say maintenance man Dhirajlal Bhagat started the fire by leaving his incense burning unattended. They say Bhagat wasted valuable time by trying to extinguish the fire himself before notifying management or authorities.

By the time Turner and Muse became aware of the rapidly spreading fire, were trapped in their room, and died there, according to the complaint.

The families also sued the Birmingham motel's owner-manager, Chris Parekh. They say Parekh allowed Bhagat to continue working and living at the motel for several years after his work visa expired. Parekh knew of the prayer shrine Bhagat kept in his room, according to the complaint.

The families say the defendants failed to respond to the fire properly, failed to keep fire extinguishers on premises and failed to notify guests and authorities of the fire I a timely manner.

The families are represented by Jason A. Shamblin of Birmingham.

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