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Investigators still seeking arsonist in deadly motel fire

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Three months after a 44-room motel was gutted by fire in Riverdale, the investigation of the deadly incident is ongoing.

"We can't move with the speed we'd like to," said City Manager Iris Jesse, because the city has limited resources.

The June 7 fire is believed to be the work or an arsonist. It began at 7:30 a.m., near a stack of mattresses behind the extended-stay motel. Before it ended, firefighters called for back-up four times. Seven engines, two ladder trucks and seven medic units responded to the scene.

Two children and three adults were killed, one child was seriously wounded, and ten families were displaced.

John Oxendine, Georgia Insurance Commissioner, said that all the investigators were "100 percent sure" the fire was set deliberately, and offered a $10,000 award to anyone calling (800) 282-5805, with information leading to an arrest.

Flyers advertising a reward for information about arson - not specifically mentioning the King Road motel, but soliciting calls with a generic description of the type of crime - were posted around the city in English and Spanish.

No arrests have been made, more than three months after the blaze, but Jesse said local, state and federal investigators are convinced the fire was arson.

"That's the investigation," Jessie said. "We're trying to pin down exactly who was involved."

The Riverdale city manager said her city is considering turning the investigation over to a state or federal agency since they have more resources to tackle it.

Meanwhile, Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes has been coordinating the investigation with state officials, while running a full-time fire department.

At 709 King Road, the property is still fenced off and the burned-out, two story structure sits under the aqua-colored water tower in the center of Riverdale.

Doug Manning, director of public works and community development, said the owners of the motel have not yet applied to rebuild.

He's met with their lawyers, Manning said, and they are "looking to see about what happens with the lawsuits before they decide what to do with the property."

There is at least one personal injury lawsuit pending against the motel owners.