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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

Fatal fire in garage is labeled suspicious

LIMA, Ohio - Investigators have ruled suspicious a fire that killed a Lima man who was living in a garage that had been converted into living quarters, officials said yesterday.

Michael Gibson, 25, was found dead on New Year s Day by Perry Township firefighters.

Fire Chief Rick Phillips said the detached garage at 203 E. 15th St. was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived at 1:41 a.m. Although the fire spread to the home, damage was minimal and no one inside the house was injured.

The garage was transformed into living quarters where Mr. Gibson lived. Family members could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Fire officials said the fire was suspicious but have not ruled it arson and are continuing to investigate.

“We have not ruled out foul play at this time,” Allen County Sheriff s Maj. Larry Van Horn said yesterday. “We have an individual who lived there in custody on [drunken driving] and outstanding drug warrants. Nobody is in custody for the fire.”

Major Van Horn said that the fatal fire was the second time this week that the sheriff s office was called to Mr. Gibson s address. At about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Mr. Gibson called the sheriff to report a domestic disturbance.

It was early the next morning that emergency crews responded to the fatal blaze.

Major Van Horn said a woman who lives at the same address was arrested Thursday on unrelated drunken driving and drug charges.

Yvonne Gipson, 40, was arraigned yesterday in Lima Municipal Court where she pleaded no contest to charges of drunken driving, open container in a vehicle, and speeding.

She was found guilty and sentenced to a total of 180 days in jail, of which 160 days were suspended. She also pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

The fire occurred in Perry Township, just blocks south of the Lima city limit. Investigators hope to interview witnesses, the sheriff s office said.

Allen County Coroner William Wright said the cause of death was not yet known.

He added that officials were waiting on the results of carbon monoxide levels within Mr. Gibson s body before determining a cause.

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