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Arrest warrant issued for former Redwood Falls woman accused of starting apartment complex fire

An arrest warrant was issued Monday for a former Redwood Falls woman charged with accidentally starting an apartment complex blaze in 2018.

Darlene Williams, age 57, was set to make an appearance in Redwood County Court on May 24. When she failed to show up, Judge Patrick Rohland issued a warrant for her arrest. Williams, now of Henning, Tennessee, faces 12 felony counts of negligent fire at the apartment complex she lived in at 201 South Minnesota Street, known as River Ridge Apartments.

Damages to the apartment complex were estimated at $343,000.  Tenants lost items such as groceries, electronics, furniture, and collectibles, bringing the total damage estimate to $443,717.

According to the complaint, police responded just after 2 a.m. on December 18, 2018 to a fire alarm at a multi-unit apartment complex at 201 South Minnesota St., known as River Ridge Apartments. Officers saw visible flames in a second-story apartment that was later identified as #206, Williams’ unit.  Williams and other tenants were standing outside the building when police arrived.

Police attempted to access the second floor with fire extinguishers, but were overtaken by smoke when the stairwell door was opened.  Due to the dangerous amounts of smoke, officers instead began clearing residents from the first floor.

Before fire crews arrived on the scene, police heard a man yelling from the window of apartment 207, calling to them that he couldn’t breathe, and indicated another man was also in the apartment.

The man told officers the smoke in the hallway was too thick to exit.  He began to panic and yell, then punched out the window screen and began climbing out the window to jump.  Police tried to guide the victim, but he lost his grip and fell, sustaining a serious leg injury.  He later reported permanent impairment of his left foot and difficulty walking as a result of the fall.

The other man in the apartment was then hanging out the window, but the Redwood Falls Fire Department arrived on time to rescue him with a ladder.

In an initial interview with police, Williams denied smoking cigarettes inside her apartment, seeing smoke or fire, or hearing fire alarms.  Williams told investigators she’d fallen asleep on the couch watching a movie, but woke up to go to the bathroom, then heard voices and followed everyone outside. Fire investigators determined the fire started on the couch in Willaims’ living room, and say she would have perished in the fire if she was sleeping on the couch as she said.

Police say Williams also made unsolicited statements about sleepwalking and being at a neighboring apartment prior to the fire as they escorted her to a storage area to retrieve her property.

In a second interview with investigators, Williams said “something” told her to get up and get out of the apartment, so she went to a neighbor’s apartment where the two women discussed going to Jackpot Junction.  She again denied seeing smoke or fire, but said she returned to the apartment to sleep.  She also told investigators her bedroom light switch is known to spark.

The woman in the apartment where Williams’ claimed to have been told investigators she heard a beeping noise and smelled something burning the night of the fire as she was finishing up laundry.  The neighbor said Williams came out of her apartment and said: “Something’s wrong”.  The woman said she looked in Williams’ apartment and smoke was pouring out of the bedroom and living room, so she called 911.

The witness said Williams is known to smoke cigarettes in her apartments and has been cautioned about the dangers. Investigators say the fire was not intentionally set, but was caused by a careless cigarette discarded on a couch cushion.

 



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