Metro-East News

Investigators: Why did fire victim’s car explode while he was washing it?

The man was washing his car when it exploded, investigators say, catching his house on fire.
The man was washing his car when it exploded, investigators say, catching his house on fire. BND / Illustration

Washington Park Police Department Detective James Mister and the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office are continuing their investigation into the death of an 84-year-old Washington Park man who lost his life in a fire at his home in the 1400 block of Kingshighway shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday.

The new information that was disclosed Monday was that someone wrote a threatening message on the car that the victim, Howard Brown, was washing with a hose when the vehicle suddenly exploded and the gas tank caught on fire.

That led to Brown’s house catching on fire. Mister confirmed that that a drug debt connected to a female, whose identity he didn’t disclose, is something police are investigating.

GUEST BOOK: Howard Brown

Brown, who had been in front of his house washing his car, ran inside the burning house, despite firefighters trying to prevent him.

“Once inside, he either fell against the door or barricaded himself inside. Firefighters were unable to get the door open,” Mister said.

When firefighters got inside the house, they found Brown’s body. Over 50 percent of his body was burned. He was taken to St John Mercy Hospital in St. Louis County, where he was pronounced dead, Mister said.

The death is being investigated as suspicious, Mister said. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but Mister said he could not say whether Brown’s death was a homicide or not at this time.

“We are in the preliminary stages of a police investigation. At this time, we don’t know,” he said.

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