The Kansas City Star has reported that Thu Hong Nguyen, the woman who stands accused of starting an October 2015 Independence Avenue fire that claimed the lives of KCFD firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio, has been hit with new arson charges related to a 2013 Lee’s Summit fire at a nail salon she managed.
The report, written by Mike Hendricks, indicates that Nguyen has been charged with one count of first-degree arson in the July 25, 2013 fire, which damaged the Nails USA salon in Lee’s Summit. At the time, investigators were unable to determine the cause of the fire. The blaze drew additional scrutiny, however, after Nguyen faced several charges in relation to the October 12, 2015 fire that killed Mesh and Leggio.
In that case, Nguyen was originally charged with one count of first-degree arson, a class A felony; and two class A felony counts of second-degree murder – because the two firefighters died as a result of the arson. She was later charged with causing a catastrophe, a class A felony, and two counts of second-degree assault, each a class C felony.
While fighting the October 2015 fire at LN Salon and Spa (2614 Independence Blvd.), KCFD firefighters Mesh and Leggio were killed when a brick structure collapsed on them. A 71-page report issued by the fire department in May of 2016 included 14 recommendations intended to prevent further tragedies at the scenes of dangerous structure fires. The report also detailed how the ranking KCFD officer at the scene had verbally ordered firefighters to evacuate the D-side alley – where Mesh and Leggio were combating the blaze – just moments before the wall collapsed at 8:06 p.m. Crucially, the after action review indicated that a number of the companies operating at the scene did not hear the “Collapse Zone Order” issued by command.
The Kansas City Star reported that charges filed against Nguyen after the October 2015 fire led the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct a deeper investigation into the 2013 Lee’s Summit fire. According to the report, a special agent launched the follow-up investigation two months after the Independence Avenue fire. That investigation “included new lab work and testing scenarios for how the fire might have started,” which ultimately led the special agent to rule out accidental causes in the 2013 case.
The details of the 2013 fire seem to mirror those from 2015. Both incidents occurred at nail salons that Nguyen managed, and in each instance, witnesses or surveillance video detailed how Nguyen locked up the business roughly 10 minutes before authorities responded or were notified.
In a separate but related case, the Northeast News obtained a November 17 indictment which reveals that another man – 51-year-old Nhat Pham – has been charged with insurance fraud in regards to the 2015 Independence Avenue fire. The indictment states that on or about October 15, 2015, Pham “knowingly presented or caused to be presented” a claim with American Family Insurance on the business at 2614 Independence Avenue. According to the indictment, Pham stated “that he was present at 2614 Independence Avenue with his wife (redacted) at around 7:15 p.m. on October 12, 2015, which statement or claims the defendant knew contained materially false information concerning a material fact.”
According to the Star report, Pham had initially claimed that he helped Nguyen close the salon that night, but investigators later discovered that he had instead been at Argosy Casino with another woman at the time.
The Northeast News was able to reach Jim Mesh, John Mesh’s brother, on the morning of Wednesday, November 22. Mesh offered his perspective on the new charges against Pham.
“If this new person had any direct involvement in the fire, we hope that he’s prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Mesh. “If it becomes known during the judicial process that he had prior knowledge of the fire or had any direct involvement with the suspect, we certainly hope that justice will be served in this matter.”
Pham is currently out of custody after posting a $10,000 bond. Nguyen remains in custody as she awaits a jury trial set to begin on July 9, 2018.