Updated: Body found in rubble of 2-week-old Rantoul fire

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."

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Dann001 wrote on September 06, 2012 at 4:09 pm

So, they determine that it was arson immediately at the scene on the day of the fire and don't bother to check the rubble for bodies? Only after a two week stench arises do they get a clue! Talk about ineptitude!

rsp wrote on September 06, 2012 at 5:09 pm


The floor of the home was very unstable. There was a danger of getting injured by trying to enter. The home was not lived in and the utilities were turned off. One suspect alledgedly made statements regarding the events that took place. 

Dann001 wrote on September 06, 2012 at 6:09 pm

A lot more information was added to this article since I first commented. However, I stand by my assertion that it was a blatant case of ineptitude on the part of all agencies involved. As for the floor issue, c'mon we're talking about a 3 foot drop, big deal!

pdfdems wrote on September 13, 2012 at 8:09 am

Oh i see your a trained arson investigator right? Have you ever falled through a floor ? If not then keep your comments to yourself cause now you look inept

A Very Busy Mom wrote on September 06, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I don't care how big of a drop it is from the floor.  The structure was unsafe and a firefighter was injured.

The investigator took pictures and didn't see anything.

It is still a tragedy that an act of arson took someone's life.

Beem wrote on September 07, 2012 at 11:09 am

"Amalio said . . .  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.' "

Aha! So he did see something.

rsp wrote on September 07, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Reasons to cancel the policy?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 07, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Who held the insurance policy?  The unknown woman did not make the payments on the property she was buying.  The management of the trailer park evicted the occupants after that.  Does the management own the property?  The management indicated that the woman was allowing the property to be used as a "flop house".  The management "locked" the property after the eviction.  The insurance investigator would had the police, and firefighters reports.  The property would not have been of much value.  The investigator probably did a brief examination from the outside of the trailer.  

I lived in trailer parks during part of my college years, and shortly after.  Fortunately, I lived in parks ran by good management.  Sadly, the residents of the one in Rantoul seem to be stuck with not so good management.    

xxxyxxx wrote on September 07, 2012 at 1:09 pm

So sad to see that the reply to the comment from Dan from someone defending our volunteer firemen was deleted by the News Gazette.  If you are going to allow someone to make rude and degrading comments about our volunteers and heros, then at least allow a positive comment meant to defend these people to remain posted.  I thought the News Gazette was a fair newspaper that allowed all opinions from its readers, not just comments made in poor taste from an individual that doesnt have a clue. 

Dann001 wrote on September 07, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Excuse me but, a police detective/arson investigator is neither a volunteer or a hero. Nor is an insurance investigator a volunteer or a hero! These people are paid to do a job professionally.

And by the way, there were no volunteer firemen involved, Rantoul's Fire Department is not volunteer!

rsp wrote on September 07, 2012 at 5:09 pm

How about Thomasboro and Gifford? Are they paid? Or are they volunteers? Do you consider any firefighters heroes? In four days it will be September 11. Were they heroes? 


They already had a case against the people who allegedly set the fire. The detective may not have even needed to go back there at all. Stop watching tv. They don't go over every arson with a fine tooth comb looking for dna and surprise bodies. There is no evidence to suggest the body was there when the insurance guy was there. 

Bhough29 wrote on September 08, 2012 at 8:09 am

Thank you!!

Bhough29 wrote on September 08, 2012 at 10:09 am

Amen to that!! xxxyxxx. I tried to be more pleasant and get my point across without being removed! :)

read the DI wrote on September 08, 2012 at 8:09 am

This isn't a diamond ring we are talking about. This is a human body. In a trailer. That's pretty hard to hide, especially in such a small space.

Bhough29 wrote on September 08, 2012 at 10:09 am


I happen to know for a fact the Rantoul firefighters are paid $20 per call. Which is considered VOLUNTEER! They ARE HEROES! They stop what they are doing with their families and friends, they jump out of bed in the middle of the night and run to help whoever is in need. They are on call 24/7 and only paid if there is a fire. They train hard to learn rescue techniques to save lives. And they do save lives. They are the first responders to many of the accidents in town.  They walk into roaring fires where they can't even see a hand in front of their face and they search for life. Just as they did in this fire. No they did not find this man. With all due respect to the poor unfortunate man who lost his life- perhaps this body was so charred it was hard to see. If even in the light of day with no smoke or flames he couldn't be seen. I can't even imagine how horrific it must have been.

Myself- I PRAISE these men and I do believe they are Heroes! ALL of them. I feel for the poor firefighter who fell through the floor. How scary that must have been. Flames and smoke all around you and you are stuck in a hole! Thank God a fellow firefighter could help him out!

Yes it is sad the poor man was not found. Sad is the word. Not inept.  

From the way it reads the man was only found after the smell became so atrocious. Sad it is.

Sad it is- that we do not know who this man was. Sad that this man didn't have any family or friends who were concerned for his whereabouts. As no one was reported missing. Were they?

This is a sad story on so many levels. And it is sad that there are people in this world who are so very judgmental and quick to condemn. How badly these people must already feel. After all- the firefighters do risk their own lives on a regular basis  to save others.

As far as the investigators- as I already mentioned- it was obviously not so easy to see this body. Fire has a way of destroying so much beyond the point of recognition. Google some pictures. It’s a gruesome reality. And I feel for the people who deal with it as a career.

And lastly- when you are in need- who do you call… the fire department- the police dept- and ambulance—all are heroes. We sure do appreciate them when we need them!


asparagus wrote on September 13, 2012 at 7:09 am

If your creed is "to serve and protect" and if your job is inherently dangerous with the real possibility of injury or death then you have chosen a heroic occupation.  If in the line of duty you actually risk your safety for the benefit of others -- are courageous despite fearful circumstances, then you are a hero.  It is that simple.  Police and fire fighters definitely qualify (volunteer or not).