Chesterton Tribune

Porter Police: Victim of fire set blaze himself

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Laurence Hanna himself set the fire which took his life early Wednesday morning in his home at 301 S. 23rd St. in Porter.

That’s the Porter Police Department’s determination following an investigation which consumed nearly 200 man-hours over a day and a half, the bulk of the legwork provided by members of the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force.

Det. Mike Veal of the PPD told the Chesterton Tribune on Thursday that Hanna had been staying at a local motel. Around 10 p.m. Tuesday he left that motel, went home, and set “multiple fires inside the house.” At some point “Hanna was overcome by the intensity of the fires and could not escape,” Veal said.

Hanna was found, fully clothed but for shoes, in a bathroom beneath a window, Veal said, and Porter County Coroner Victoria Deppe has ruled the cause of death to be asphyxiation from smoke inhalation.

Veal noted that the fire was a “very smoky” one and that, because electric service had been disconnected to the home, Hanna had no interior lights that night to find his way through the house and apparently became disoriented.

The fire had “several points of origin,” Veal said—the house sustained severe damage in the central area, the living room on the south end, and the basement—but “we have no idea what, if any, accelerant was used or how much.”

Samples from the scene have been collected for testing by the State Fire Marshal.

The PPD continues to investigate a possible motive, which Veal declined to discuss except to say that he is seeking to subpoena some documents. Still, Veal added, “we may never know the motive.”

Veal did say that Hanna is believed to have acted alone.

Major Crimes Task Force

Veal credited the quick resolution of the case to the PPD’s membership in the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force, a consortium of regional law enforcement agencies established in March 2006. For an annual fee of $500, a member of the Task Force is entitled to call on other members for assistance in the investigation of major crimes, typically death investigations but also serial arsons or rapes.

“I called the Task Force at 7:05 a.m. Wednesday,” Veal said. “By 8:30 a.m. I had eight good seasoned detectives who their departments were willing to cut loose. They did interviews, the legwork, they helped put it together.”

Assisting in the fire investigation were detectives from Valparaiso and the Porter County Sheriff’s Police in Porter County and from Dyer, Schererville, and the Lake County Sheriff’s Police in Lake County.

Ironically, Veal said, the PPD only joined the Task Force two months ago, and the fire investigation was the Task Force’s first call-out to Porter County.

Ken Croft, who commands the Dyer Police Department’s Detective Bureau and heads the Task Force, said that right now 36 detectives belong to the Task Force and that the advantages of a police department’s membership are many. For one thing, a smaller department like the PPD, with only a couple of detectives, suddenly has at its disposal as many as it needs for as long as it needs to get a major crime investigation under control, with no worries about the cost of overtime. Many of those detectives have “specialized knowledge” and “contacts.”

In addition, the Task Force takes over the case management, teams the detectives into pairs and tasks them, and can deploy them in shifts to spell their colleagues. “We run the investigation to the point where the requesting agency doesn’t need further assistance, usually two or three days, and then we’re released,” Croft said.

To date the Task Force has investigated four cases.

Of the fire investigation, Croft said, “we started out from the beginning and it worked real well. It worked excellent for the Porter PD.”

Veal agreed. “It’s is absolutely the best thing,” he said.


Posted 11/2/2007