Families sue fire department and county

March 26, 2008 5:22:40 PM PDT
Homeowners are left with nothing but rubble after fires. And now, they are suing the county after investigators say a couple firefighters started them. The families who owned the homes say they don't have the money to make the repairs.

"It's sad that somebody that's supposed to protect us, would do this," said Mary Renterias.

Renterias still gets sad when she looks at what's left of her daughter's Cloverleaf home. What troubles her even more is how she says she's been treated since the blaze.

"They wouldn't even admit to it, that this house was on the list," she said. "They never admitted to anything."

Renterias is in one of three families suing Harris County and the Cloverleaf Volunteer Fire Department. They claim since the fire, little has been done to offer them any relief.

"I tried to get some answers, but no one's called back," said homeowner Maria Leyva. "No one's responded in any way, shape or form."

It began two years ago after a rash of arson fires began popping up in the Cloverleaf area. An investigation later led to the arrest of two volunteer firefighters. Those men, Jason Southard and Marvin Romero, both stand charged of setting the blazes.

While the fire chief understands the families' complaints, he says neither the fire department nor the county should be held liable, that both of the men acted individually.

"These people did this on their own," said Chief Michael Batisse with the Cloverleaf Volunteer Fire Department. "They did not do this as part of the fire department. That's something we have never condoned."

But the family's attorney says the chief and county are responsible, pointing out that Romero was hired even though he had a criminal record.

"They failed to supervise these firefighters," said attorney Mark Weycer, who's representing the families. "We believe they were negligent in hiring these individuals, especially the one with the criminal background."

We did speak with the Harris County attorney. He says he'll try to get the county off the lawsuit. He, too, believes this was the act of two individuals.

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