Painter charged in fatal truck fire

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Prosecutors accused a house painter Tuesday of starting a fire in the back of a truck by flicking a lighter near paint thinner to annoy a co-worker, fatally burning two people.

Tommy McElroy was among 13 painters trapped in the fire on July 29, 2003, as they drove down an interstate. He faces two counts of reckless homicide and a count of criminal recklessness.

McElroy, 27, faces a prison sentence of two to eight years.

All of the men jumped or fell out of the truck, most of them still on fire. All were seriously burned, and two later died.

According to a probable-cause affidavit, McElroy and Turner had argued, and McElroy kept lighting the paper Turner was reading on fire with a lighter to bother him. Turner got up and spilled some paint thinner on McElroy to retaliate, and some of it spilled on the truck floor. McElroy bent down and flicked the lighter near the thinner, igniting the fumes and creating a fireball, the affidavit said.

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