Fatal fire inquiry won't be reopened

Marsh Bennett died a few days after his house 563 Rutledge Ave. caught on fire, on March 30, 2002. The blaze began on the porch, and he was trapped on the second floor.

The task force investigating Charleston's string of downtown arson fires has opted not to reopen the case of a fatal blaze that killed a Rutledge Avenue man in 2002.

In a two-page letter this week, the group said no new information has been offered to warrant re-examining the case that led to the death of Marsh Bennett, 78.

"If additional or new information becomes available at any point in time, the cause of a fire may be updated," the group also wrote.

The denial is a blow to Bennett's family, who asked that their father's loss be included as a possible homicide tied to the wave of serial fires Charleston has experienced in the past decade.

"I'm totally sick," Bennett's daughter, Martha Fairrow, said Friday.

The March 30, 2002, blaze at

563 Rutledge Ave. is one of more than 80 suspicious fires that have broken out in the densely packed streets north and south of the Crosstown. In an analysis of the fires, The Post and Courier discovered that the house was hit by suspicious fires two later times.

The task force cited several reasons in its denial, including that:

--No information available today either adds to or contradicts the original finding that the fire's cause remains undetermined.

--Court documents in a civil action filed by representatives of the Bennett estate against the property owner and other occupants at the time of the fire reaffirm evidence that the fire was accidental. A settlement with the property owner was reached in favor of the Bennett estate.

--No evidence of an intentional act was uncovered.

Fairrow, of St. Petersburg, Fla., said she couldn't understand the task force's logic, given that her father's death fits in the suspicious-fire pattern.

"I've been crying a lot. I don't understand it," she said. "You're stung and you don't know what to say."

Bennett was trapped on the home's second floor when fire consumed the house's porch. Firefighters rushed in and found him alive but with his face badly burned and lungs singed. He died a few days later.

Members of the review group include the city fire and police departments, the Charleston County Coroner's Office, the State Law Enforcement Division and other investigative bodies.