Updated: Body found in rubble of 2-week-old Rantoul fire
UPDATED 6:05 p.m. Thursday
Authorities are seeking to determine the identity and cause of death of a man whose body was found nearly two weeks after a fire destroyed a Rantoul mobile home.
Rantoul Police Lt. Jeff Wooten said a police detective investigating the fire — which destroyed a mobile home in the 1200 block of Cypress Lane in the Heritage Estates mobile home park on Aug. 22 — discovered the body inside the home Tuesday.
The detective, who also serves as an arson investigator for the Rantoul Fire Department, was conducting a follow-up investigation of the fire when he noticed a foul odor at the scene and found the body inside the trailer.
"The detective was out there doing some interviews (of neighbors) and started looking around the scene," Wooten said. "That's when he smelled this odor (and) he saw what he thought were some human remains."
The detective was able to see the remains through a door of the mobile home, which was badly damaged. Wooten said the body was found in a bedroom adjacent to the living room.
The remains were recovered by Rantoul police detectives along with officials from the state fire marshal's office, the state police and the Champaign County coroner's office.
Wooten said an autopsy conducted on the remains Wednesday determined that they were that of a male.
The body has not been identified due to its condition. Wooten said further tests will be conducted. Additional testing will also be done to determine the cause of death.
Witnesses at the fire scene said they saw two men run from the mobile home and identified both of them. One of them, Brandon A.F. Young, 21, who is homeless, was arrested later that day a block away from the fire scene and charged with arson. Wooten said Young remains in custody at the Champaign County jail.
Young's bond has been set at $25,000. He has pleaded not guilty and has requested a jury trial.
Police said they were searching for the second man, whose identity was not released, for questioning.
Police said a witness was in the front yard when Young ran up to the witness, tripped and fell and that Young said he and another person had set fire to the mobile home.
The witness said Young indicated the other man was breathing heavily and "freaking out," according to Assistant State's Attorney Stephanie Weber. A second witness told police Young and another man had been drinking large amounts of vodka earlier in the day.
Young initially denied having anything to do with the fire but later admitted that he and the second man both entered the mobile home and began vandalizing it. Young said the other man lit a couch on fire with what he thought was a lighter.
Wooten said police were given information that led them to believe that the other man had left the state.
When firefighters arrived at the scene about 4:57 p.m. Aug. 22, they found the mobile home engulfed in flame.
On Thursday, Fire Chief Ken Waters said one of his firefighters fell through the floor while the fire was being fought.
"I ordered them out," Waters said. "That's when we made the decision to fillet the trailer, to open it up from the outside (to fight the blaze). That way we're on solid ground. It's for our safety."
He said the firefighter who went through the floor sustained bruising and abrasions on his leg.
Later, the roof caved in over a large part of the mobile home.
John Amalio, co-manager of Heritage Estates, said the mobile home was owned by the mobile home park and was being purchased by a woman who had moved to Champaign. He said she was letting it be used as a "flop house."
Because of failure to make payments on the home, all occupants were told they would be evicted Aug. 22, the day of the fire. But Amalio said everyone got out the day before.
"We went down there ... and the house was empty," Amalio said. "We secured the house and locked it."
Amalio said he found evidence of drug use in the home.
"There was marijuana all over the house," he said.
He said the owner let Young stay there.
Amalio said he was surprised that the police detective found a body in the dwelling because an insurance investigator had gone through the house earlier in the week "and took pictures of the house inside and outside ... and he didn't see nothing."
"He went about every part of the house he could see. He went in on the floor. He was very careful to walk around in there."
Amalio said the mobile home was a frequent trouble spot.
"There was always problems down there," he said. "Police were always going down there."