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Charges Filed Against Landlord, Property Manager Over Fire That Killed Provo Woman

Nov 28, 2018, 11:01 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2018, 12:09 am

PROVO, Utah — Charges were filed Wednesday against two men connected to a property where a fire claimed a woman’s life in June.

The owner, 65-year-old Kelly Taylor Ellis, and the property’s apparent manager, 69-year-old Homer Workman, were charged with manslaughter, a second-degree felony, or in the alternative, negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor.

The two were also charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, no rental dwelling license, failure to meet minimum health and safety standards, violation of conditional use permit and illegal caretaker facility.

On June 1, the fire, at 1455 S. State St., trapped 48-year-old Donna Clegg inside a bedroom.

Clegg’s body was later located inside the structure.

“The structure and its owners had been in great contact with Provo zoning enforcement division of the City of Provo, there had been many contacts about this building, the building was not tenable for a dwelling unit and there had been much contact about trying to bring that building up to code,” Provo Fire Chief James Miguel told reporters during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “The building until the time of the fire had never been brought up to code.”

Fire investigators provided a detailed timeline that showed contacts between the city and Ellis began in 2012, when a zoning case was opened.

According to the timeline, Workman was first informed that he could not live in the structure in 2013.

Though Ellis, the timeline noted, applied for a conditional use permit in 2013 to allow for a caretaker dwelling, firefighters said the conditions of the permit — including improvements and the owner obtaining a business license — were never met.

Provo Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Lynn Schofield, the lead investigator in the case, said Workman collected money from renters of the property for years, though the site had never been approved to be a residence.

“Mr. Workman states that it is the city’s responsibility to forcibly evict the tenants,” the timeline from firefighters stated. “Community oriented policing officer explains the eviction process and informs Mr. Workman that it is his responsibility because the tenants are paying rent.”

The timeline also stated that after Workman had again reviewed the eviction process with a zoning officer on May 24, Workman went to Provo City Customer Service and requested a utility disconnect.

“He asked the customer service agent if there was a law against turning off the power if there were squatters,” the timeline stated. “Mr. Workman does not inform the tenants that he is shutting off the power.”

Schofield said Clegg continued to live in the structure and used candles, which were one of two potential ignition sources for the fire.

According to charging documents, “Ellis described the building as a ‘death trap’ and a ‘tinderbox’ but made no effort to remove residents from the building, continuing to accept rent money from defendant Workman, who accepted rent money from the victims.”

“Mr. Ellis has been copied on every piece of correspondence from the zoning department regarding this property,” Schofield said. “As the property owner, he is ultimately responsible for the property.”

The two men were issued a summons to appear in court.

Workman declined to comment on the case.

One of Ellis’ family members, when contacted late Wednesday, deferred to defense attorney Ron Yengich.

An attempt to reach Yengich after hours did not immediately result in a response.

At the news conference, Karleen Holland, a Clegg family spokesperson, thanked investigators for their efforts.

“Donna was a loving mother, grandmother, wife, sister and friend,” Holland said in a prepared statement. “She will be missed by many. Donna would give the shirt off her back to anyone in need. Due to this tragic event, she is missing out on watching her grandchildren and soon-to-be grandchildren grow. Our family hopes these charges will bring answers and help us find closure.”

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Charges Filed Against Landlord, Property Manager Over Fire That Killed Provo Woman