Nail salon owner charged with 2 counts of murder in KC firefight - KCTV5

Nail salon owner charged with 2 counts of murder in KC firefighters' deaths

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John V. Mesh, a 13-year department veteran, left, was working on Pumper 10. Larry J. Leggio, a 17-year department veteran, was assigned to Truck 2. John V. Mesh, a 13-year department veteran, left, was working on Pumper 10. Larry J. Leggio, a 17-year department veteran, was assigned to Truck 2.
Thu Hong Nuguyen is accused of setting her Independence Avenue nail salon on fire in an effort to collect insurance money. Thu Hong Nuguyen is accused of setting her Independence Avenue nail salon on fire in an effort to collect insurance money.
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

A Kansas City woman is accused of setting the Oct. 12 fire that destroyed a building and claimed the lives of two Kansas City firefighters.

Thu Hong Nguyen is accused of setting her Independence Avenue nail salon on fire in an effort to collect insurance money. Authorities believe this is the third time she set a fire in an effort to collect insurance money.

Nguyen faces one count of first-degree arson and two counts of second-degree murder because Larry Leggio and John Mesh died when part of the blazing building collapsed. Two other firefighters were injured.

Nguyen made her first court appearance on Wednesday. KCTV5's Jonathan Carter said there appeared to be tears on her face during the court appearance. Family members of one of the victims were in court during the brief appearance.

"Her actions are a domino effect of devastation," said Bobbi Baker-Hughes of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

According to court records, a federal fire investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated that he believes, as an expert in fire origin and caused determinations, that the fire originated in the northeast corner of a storage room inside LN Salon and Spa at 2614 Independence Avenue.

Other businesses and apartments were in the building.

The 43-year-old woman allegedly admitted to buying four bottles of acetone and four bottles of isopropyl alcohol the day of the fire. Investigators believe she poured out the product, set it on fire and then left.

"After hours of hard work from members of our investigative team, we have determined that this fire was intentionally set and is a crime of arson," said Gregory Gant, special agent in charge for the ATF.

Surveillance video showed that Nguyen was the last person to leave the salon, and she admitted to that fact, prosecutors say.

The defendant told investigators she received insurance proceeds from two other fires at her businesses.

Bond was set at $2 million cash only. She was ordered to avoid any contact with the victims' families.

Leggio's family said they would have no comment. Mesh's family didn't have an immediate response.

Second-degree murder is not eligible for the death penalty in Missouri. A prosecutor must prove premeditation to charge a defendant with first-degree murder in Missouri. Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker could seek to have the charges upgraded.

"This has been a long investigation, but there is much investigation left to do," Baker said in an afternoon news conference.

Baker broke the news to the families before the news conference.

"They are really struggling with the news that they received today," Baker said. "On behalf of the Mesh family and the Leggio family, both injured firemen, the entire firefighter family, what I say to you is that we will fight for you and we are going to fight for justice in this case."

Nguyen was arrested Monday night. She will make her first court appearance at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Nguyen could face life in prison.

Court documents show that firefighters responded at 7:24 p.m. Oct. 12 to the fire. Based on electrical activity, the fire started by 7:17 p.m.

Authorities spoke to a nail salon employee who indicated he was normally allowed to take a smoke break while Nguyen locked up.

"On the night of the fire, it was learned that the witness was not afforded the opportunity to smoke a cigarette because Thu Hong Nguyen exited the business at approximately 7:15 p.m.," according to court records.

The last customer left at 6:56 p.m. based on surveillance video from a nearby business. The employee stepped outside at 7:11 p.m. and waited for Nguyen at the front door.

The interior lights were turned off at 7:12 p.m. Moments later, investigators believe Nguyen left. The first signs of smoke are seen on surveillance video at 7:26 p.m.

This was the third fire that Nguyen was involved with.

On July 25, 2013, her nail station burned inside the Nails USA store at 410 SW Ward Road in Lee's Summit. The cause of the fire was determined to be accidental at the time.

Investigators with the Lee's Summit Fire Department said Tuesday that they may reopen their case in light of the latest accusations.

Nails USA is now closed.

A woman who owns a next door business remembers the fire well. She thought it was suspicious because Nguyen wasn't there at the time and had left a heat lamp over a bowl of liquid that turned out to be flammable.

On Jan. 6, Nguyen's nail salon burned at 2608 Independence Ave. in Kansas City. Her salon was below apartment 2, which is where the fire started and it spread to her salon. The apartment was locked and vacant at the time of the fire.

Authorities determined that the fire was intentionally set and the cause was "classified as incendiary."

On Monday, Nguyen allegedly told investigators that she got insurance payoffs for both fires. She allegedly made conflicting statements. She claimed there were two people with her when she left that night, but authorities couldn't find evidence of a second person.

"We've got a long way to go, but we're thankful to this point where we are and we will continue to work the investigation," Fire Chief Paul Berardi said.

KCTV5's Amy Anderson, Heather Staggers, Josh Marshall and Michael Portman contributed to this report.

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