Neighbors knew little about St. Rose woman killed in fire

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011



ST. ROSE – A Hahnville man and a Picayune, Miss., woman were arrested Saturday in connection with an early Friday morning fire at a St. Rose home that killed an 88-year-old woman, according to a release from the St. Charles Sheriff’s Office.

Toby W. Beasley, 32, was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated arson, and Janna L. Firmin, 34, was charged with principal to first-degree murder and principal to aggravated arson, said Sgt. Dwayne LaGrange, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. He said both are being held without bond at the Nelson Coleman Correctional Facility in Killona.

LaGrange said Ophelia Shepard was killed after Beasley allegedly set fire to her home on Mockingbird Lane in St. Rose. Shepard, a double amputee, was trapped in the front bedroom and was unable to escape.

Meanwhile, two other residents inside the home, Shepard’s 16-year-old and 20-year-old grandsons, were able to escape with minor injuries.

According to Sheriff’s investigators, the residents awoke around 6:30 a.m. Friday to find Beasley had kicked the front door in saw him pouring what appeared to be gasoline inside the house. LaGrange said the grandsons knew Beasley but wouldn’t elaborate.

The grandsons got into an argument with Beasley, and as they confronted him, Beasley ignited the liquid and fled the home. LaGrange said the small one-story brick home was quickly engulfed in flames and heavy smoke, making it difficult for anyone inside to escape.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said based on the assessment from firefighters the fire was fully ablaze within a few seconds spreading to a neighboring home and a van parked in the next-door driveway.

Browning said with Shepard in the front bedroom, it was hard for anyone to get to her in time.

“That area of the home had so much smoke and so much fire, it would be difficult for anyone to make it out on their own,” Browning said. “If someone had gotten to the bedroom, the fire would have blocked the escape route. The house went up in flames so fast, there was nothing anyone could have done.”

LaGrange said Shepard’s death was the second homicide in St. Charles Parish this year.

Family members said Shepard suffered from severe diabetes and crippling arthritis. She had both legs amputated and was in ill health. The home, in the 600 block of Mockingbird Lane, belonged to Shepard’s daughter, who had left for work before the fire was started.

LaGrange said when fire trucks arrived at 6:35 a.m. the house was fully engulfed as other residents in the neighborhood were starting their day.

“People were getting up for work and kids were out waiting for school buses,” LaGrange said. “A lot of residents were out and many saw what happened. We got a great deal of help in the investigation.”

On Monday, many neighbors still seemed rather shaken by the incident and expressed condolences to the family.

“This kind of thing never happens back here, this is a quiet neighborhood,” said Shepard’s next-door neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “It is so sad and frightening to know that she could not get out, but the fire went up so quickly.”

Michael Jarreau, a neighbor from across the street, said other residents of the block knocked on his window asking for help to get Shepard out. Jarreau, who was asleep at the time, said by the time he got outside the house was fully ablaze.

Jarreau said he knew the family, but didn’t know much about Shepard, who never ventured outside the home.

“There are nice people,” he said. “This is a real tragedy.”