Families seek accountability after residential fire claims two lives in East St. Louis

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – A building fire in the Metro East claimed the lives of Lisa Farmer and Stanley Scott last weekend.

Scenario Spearman streamed the chaos live as it was unfolding on his Facebook page, 89Block News. You can hear on the stream officials saying two people were trapped inside.

The fire happened just before 5:10 a.m. on January 20, engulfing a two-story residential building located on the 500 block of North 13th Street in East St. Louis. Four people lived there, according to the building owner and the attorney representing the victims’ families.

Farmer’s daughter, Chiquita Knowles, remembered her mother as a hero. She said her 58-year-old mother went back inside the burning building in an attempt to rescue her disabled neighbor, who lived on the second floor.

Stanley suffered from arthritis and was unable to use his right leg. He relied on a wheelchair and walker for mobility and was unable to escape as the building went up in flames. Scott’s younger sister shared her heartache, saying Stanley had celebrated his 56th birthday just days before the fire.

“My mom and I don’t even hardly have time to grieve trying to take care of her through this process, which has been very devastating,” Deena Derosier said.

Derosier also spoke about the challenges she faced in trying to secure her brother’s safety, given the harsh weather conditions at the time. The wind chill was more than -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“I’ve been through trying to get him out of this building. There’s no help,” she said. “I’ve contacted Department of Human Services. I’ve contacted everybody to try to help me get them outta here, but there’s just no help.”

Attorney John Hipskind of Hipskind & McAninch, LLC, is now representing the families of the victims. Hipskind has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the tragic fire and revealed that the families have said there was no working heat in the building.

Residents reportedly resorted to using a kerosene heater, which may have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. Photographs provided by the families appear to suggest that the multi-family home was not up to code.

Wade Wicks, the owner of the property, declined an on-camera interview but mentioned over the phone that the building was equipped with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Family members refuted his claim, claiming that the alleged fire escape route—the stairs to the building’s side—had been rotting and impassable before the fire.

“Unfortunately, this tragedy just happened a week ago,” Hipskind said. “What we’ve heard is from the family; the family has told us the opposite, that there were no smoke detectors.”

“We’ve asked Mr. Wicks. My mom was about to even pay for a fire escape to be built because we knew my brother was up there,” Derosier said. “They had a kerosene heater trying to keep warm. He didn’t even have heat. They had to keep their own self-heat. We brought my brother a heater for his room, but it was a heater. And Mrs. Farmer was trying to stay warm by burning a hot plate; boiling hot water to try to keep warm in her room.”

Her attorneys want this to serve as a reminder to other landlords and building operators about the responsibility of landlords and building operators to provide safe living conditions for their tenants.

“Justice in this case is sad because there’s no amount of money that’s gonna bring back these folks, and that’s what the families really need,” Hipskind said.

Wicks did not respond to questions about the working heat but did mention that the fire started in Farmer’s room due to a hot plate. He urged people to avoid using faulty heating sources, described the fire as a terrible tragedy, and abruptly ended the conversation, stating that he had no further comments at this time.

FOX 2 reached out to Kakeesha Branigan, a spokesperson for the City of East St. Louis, for details about the fire on Saturday. She said she would reach out to the chief to see what details on the fire could be released.

“The incident spanned through two of the assistant chiefs’ shifts, so myself and the chief have been trying to contact them to get the correct info,” she said.

By Sunday, she said, “Unfortunately, there has been no update passed down. As soon as I hear something, I will pass it your way, but I understand you need to run a story.”

Branigan added that the fire chief and a crisis intervention social worker went to Knowles’ home to offer assistance. It’s believed the family is creating a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.

The Illinois State Fire Marshal is investigating the fire.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to FOX 2.