PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Portsmouth Police detectives are working to find three people who may have information on a fatal structure fire that happened earlier this week.
The apartment fire on Victory Boulevard in Portsmouth on Wednesday night left a 70-year-old woman dead and three others, including two children, with injuries. Officials have since deemed the fire as suspicious after a preliminary investigation.
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“As a result of their investigation, detectives and fire marshals have identified three persons of interest, who they believe may have vital information about this case,” said police in a statement released on Friday.
- Skyler L. Peacock is a white male who stands approximately 6’ tall and weighs 135 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes.
- James J. Yoder, Jr. is a white male who stands approximately 5’9” tall and weighs 160 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes.
- Amanda M. Nutt is a white female who stands approximately 5’8” tall and weighs 135 pounds. She has brown hair and green eyes.
Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of Skyler L. Peacock, James J. Yoder, Jr., or Amanda M. Nutt is urged to call the Portsmouth Police Department Major Crimes Unit at 757-393-8536 or the Portsmouth Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.
Callers can also submit an anonymous tip through the Crime Line’s “P3 Tips” app or via their website at portsmouthcrimeline.com.
Family members confirmed for WAVY-TV 10 that 70-year old Barbara Allen was killed in the fire. Allen had two children and seven grandchildren.
Fire officials have released few details about how and where the fire started, but the building’s co-owner, Alan Steele, told WAVY-TV 10 the fire was started inside unit two on the first floor as a result of a dispute between roommates who lived there.
“Two of the five tenants in unit number two indicated that two of them were mad at them so they decided to put some flammable liquid inside the building — lit it on fire,” said Steele.
Steele says he has been trying to evict the tenant for weeks. Eviction papers were filed in Portsmouth General District Court earlier this month and the tenant is due in court July 20.
Steele says at one point this year, up to five adults and four children — people whose names are not on the lease — were staying in the one-bedroom unit. He believes the tenant has not lived there for several weeks.
Lisa Grant contacted 10 On Your Side Friday evening to establish that she is the tenant of record.
Grant said earlier this year she allowed one of the persons of interest, Nutt, to live in the unit because of her child. Grant says things went south when the man she calls Jay — James Yoder Jr., who is also a person of interest — arrived at the home.
According to Steele, two of the roommates, whom he did not identify, decided to start a fire to intimidate others in unit two. He says he has seen text messages exchanged between the occupants.
“One of the pictures [in the text message] was from the person who supposedly lit the fire — he had to go to a hospital. It showed third-degree burns to his hand; that’s something evident. She showed me one of the tenants saying they were going to burn this [building] down and it was a lot of infighting between them.”
Steele says Allen, who died at a hospital, had rented from him for more than six years at two different locations. The Steele family has established a GoFundMe account in efforts to assist the Allen family and 13 tenants who were displaced by the suspicious fire.
Three dogs also died in the blaze.