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Woman's death is ruled a suicide

December 12, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS & BRIAN SHAPPELL

gregs@herald-mail.com
shappell@herald-mail.com

The Washington (D.C.) Chief Medical Examiner's Office ruled Thursday that Brenda L. Hitt's death was a suicide, according to information provided by the Hagerstown Public Information Office.

Hitt, 47, died at 1:41 a.m. Tuesday at Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center, nine days after starting a fire in her apartment at 39 E. North Ave. in an attempt to injure herself, according to a release from the city.

Officials said that fire and police investigators ruled out an accidental cause to the fire.

Fire investigators refused Thursday to answer questions directly, the day after Hitt's autopsy, but released information through the city's public information office.

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Fire and police investigators determined that Hitt set fire to newspapers that were placed on her bed. The fire then spread to the rest of the bedroom.

Hitt's apartment was one of four in the two-story building. Firefighters were called at 10:16 a.m. on Nov. 30 after neighbor Dave Moyer pulled her out of the burning apartment.

Hitt, who was in the front room of her first-floor apartment, suffered severe burns in the blaze.

Moyer and other neighbors, several of whom now are living at a local hotel because of damage to the building, have said the usually upbeat, friendly Hitt had not been seen outside of her apartment in the days preceding the suicide.

Moyer, whose hands were burned in the rescue, said Hitt fought him in an attempt to stay inside the apartment and told him she wanted to die so she could be with her mother, Shirley P. Finfrock.

Hitt suffered the injuries less than three weeks after the slaying of Finfrock, who was found bludgeoned to death Nov. 12 in her Smithsburg home.

No charges have been filed in connection with Finfrock's slaying. Detectives from the Washington County Sheriff's Office have interviewed dozens of people and sent evidence collected from inside Finfrock's Holiday Drive home and a man deemed a person of interest to the Maryland State Police Forensic Division for evaluation.

Sheriff's Department Cpl. Roy Harsh said Thursday that detectives likely will present information in the case to a Washington County grand jury in January. The grand jury would determine if there is probable cause to issue charges.

Two days after the Nov. 30 fire, police Detective Tammy Jurado was added to the investigation as a result of discussions with Brown, though foul play was not thought to be involved, Lt. Rick Johnson said.

Responding to two of 16 questions from The Herald-Mail to the city's information office, Fire Marshal Tom Brown wrote that fire officials determined Nov. 30 that the fire was set intentionally.

Brown wrote that all accidental theories or causes were "examined, considered and eliminated."

Brown also wrote that investigators used a dog trained to detect ignitable liquids to sniff flooring samples from Hitt's apartment and clothing. The dog did not detect any such liquids, Brown wrote.

Official information


The Hagerstown Fire Department, which officially was the lead agency investigating the fire, designated the city's public information office as the official source of information Thursday, Hagerstown Public Information Manager Karen Giffin said.

Giffin requested The Herald-Mail submit any questions to her office Thursday morning.

Reporters forwarded questions, including inquiries about the existence of a suicide note, whether investigators spoke with Hitt after the fire and if sprinklers or smoke detectors could have reduced the level of damage caused by the fire.

Nearly four hours later, city administrative coordinator Brenda Hawbaker forwarded an e-mail containing Brown's answers to two questions.

Asked if reporters would be able to speak directly with Brown, Hawbaker said, "No. ... He said he would prefer to do this through our office at this time."

Hawbaker said she sent the questions to Brown and William Nairn, a city attorney.

Giffin said the fire department had asked her office to handle media inquiries regarding the Hitt investigation.

She said "it's an investigation and sometimes they bring in (the) public information (office) ..."

"There was no special reasons they wanted to use our office, and all departments have the right to use the public information office at any time ..." Giffin said. "They wanted to issue one statement to everyone at the same time."

Giffin said that another city attorney, Mark Boyer, would review further questions today, and "any questions that we can answer, we will."

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