2 Lake Station teens face arson, murder charges
by Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2012 10:16PM
Trevontay Milsap / Photo from Gary police
GARY — Trading a broken Xbox for half an ounce of pot sparked events leading to a deadly fire that killed a mother and her teenage daughter and left dozens homeless.
Two Lake Station teens are charged with murder, murder in the perpetration of an arson and arson in the July 25 Lakeshore Dunes apartment fire that took the lives of Bernice King, 33, and Angel Harris, 14.
“The spirit of this was just so bad,” Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Thursday in a news conference hours after the funeral for the two arson victims. Flanked by police and fire brass, the mayor announced charges against Trevontay D. Milsap, 19, of 3201 Ripley St. and Rafael Peluyera, 21, of 2731 Warrick St.
King’s three youngest sons told police they jumped from the apartment as smoke filled their home. One son said the smoke alarm woke his sister, who “passed out” before he jumped from his mother’s bedroom window.
King died in the apartment with her daughter. She had recently been reunited with her children, who had been in foster care after she pleaded guilty to a drug charge.
Milsap was arrested Monday. He admitted to Detective Cpl. James Nielsen he drove Peluyera to the apartment complex and waited while Peluyera went inside with a gas can.
A few minutes later “he could hear the fire alarm going off and he could hear kids yelling and crying that there was a fire,” the probable cause affidavit states.
Fire investigators determined an accelerant was poured outside King’s door, down the hall and halfway down the first set of stairs from the third floor.
The first Gary Fire Department engine arrived at 12:47 a.m., six minutes after it was dispatched.
Firefighters immediately began rescuing tenants on the north side of the building while residents on the south side continued to call 911 asking for help.
Residents told the Post-Tribune that police dispatchers hung up on them before they could provide their exact location.
The second fire engine arrived at 12:59 a.m., 12 minutes after the first.
The mayor downplayed suggestions that the dispatchers and lack of fire engines contributed to the deaths of King and her daughter.
“We understand the importance of having appropriate equipment,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Milsap said Peluyera appeared to have been beaten, and said King’s son, Antonio Harris, 17, and another man previously had pistol-whipped him.
When he returned from the apartment, Peluyera said, “I got him ... I burnt their (expletive) up,” the affidavit states.
Peluyera is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds at a Chicago hospital. He was shot the day after King and her daughter perished in their apartment.
His shooting appears to be retaliation for the fire. Freeman-Wilson touched on the topic at the news conference, saying, “We ask those who are inclined to seek justice in their own way to let us.”
The dispute began when Peluyera obtained the Xbox game system from Antonio “Tone” Harris, who expected marijuana in return, the probable cause affidavit states.
After Harris and Peluyera argued about the deal, the apartment where Harris lived with his mother, sister and brothers was shot up. King made a police report on July 24, the day before the fire about the shooting.
One witness told Detective Nielsen that Antonio Harris admitted shooting at an apartment of the person he suspected of firing into his mother’s home.
Hours before the fire, King called her mother and sister, saying she had been threatened by a man police identified as Peluyera.
She read her family a Facebook posting from Peluyera threatening her family and suggesting she move from the complex “before the hole lake shore come up 911,” the affidavit states.