The civil courts will have to decide who -- if anyone -- should pay for the deadly Sofa Super Store blaze that killed nine Charleston firefighters.
No criminal charges will be pursued in connection with the fire from nearly four years ago. In a letter released Friday, the State Law Enforcement Division said that as a result of its probe "the determination has been made that this matter does not meet the criteria for a SLED criminal investigation." The Charleston Police Department concurred with the findings.
With neither agency identifying a criminal aspect to the blaze and obtaining arrest warrants, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said it leaves her office with nothing to pursue.
"I don't have a case to prosecute," she said, and that "based on the information both agencies have shared with me over the months and years, I do not disagree."
The findings that no criminal tie-ins were identified drew immediate disappointment from some of those who lost loved ones in the June 18, 2007, blaze. Mike Mulkey, whose son perished in the fire, said he was not surprised. "From the first, she (Wilson) told us that we were not going to get what we wanted," he said.
Mulkey said he and Randy Hutchinson, whose brother also died, have no intention of giving up their fight to see criminal charges pressed in
the case. They plan to pursue an alternate course of action, though Mulkey declined to go into specifics Friday.
Wilson requested a SLED review last year after meeting with relatives of deceased fire department Capts. Louis Mulkey and William Hutchinson who gave her eight binders of materials they say prove Charleston Fire Department commanders exposed fire crews to unnecessary and deadly risks, and with insufficient training and leadership.
In a letter sent to Wilson this week concluding its review, SLED outlined its stance in a six-paragraph note that said arson investigators and other experts met with various sources tied to the fire, and looked at the findings from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other professional groups that conducted independent reviews. Based on "the totality of the information," the note said, the matter does not meet the criteria for a criminal investigation.
"However, if you have additional mitigating circumstances, this position can be reconsidered," said the note, signed by Maj. Roger Heaton, a SLED special investigator.
The letter did not address any of the specific details that were looked into. Agency spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons referred all questions to Wilson.
A spokesman with Charleston police also confirmed the criminal probe is closed on their end as well. "Our position was solidified by our legal analysis of the facts and circumstances, which is now supported by SLED's independent inquiry," the department said.
The issue of culpability in the fire has drawn a wide array of opinions, with some family members saying the actions of some individuals that night constitute criminal negligence while the city's attorneys as well as some family members of the deceased don't agree.