HOUSTON (AP) - One of the three people killed in a Houston office building fire Wednesday was a budding victims' rights activist planning to testify Thursday against the man charged with sexually assaulting her daughter several years ago.
Jeanette Hargrove, 52, of Friendswood, was killed when a fire raged through her fifth-floor office of the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. But Hargrove had become known to some in Houston as a knowledgeable victim's rights advocate, a role she assumed after her daughter's attack.
Andy Kahan, the crime victims director for Houston Mayor Bill White, said he spoke with Hargrove only hours before her death and he planned to accompany Hargrove to court on Thursday.
"Jeanette was a very classy lady and was adamant about ensuring that justice be carried out for her daughter," Kahan said. "Instead of yelling and screaming about the injustice of the world, she took action. I was personally just stunned this morning when I found out. It's just ironic. I felt once her case was over, she would join the ranks as a victim's advocate."
The Harris County Medical Examiner's office was awaiting fingerprint identification of the other two victims, but local media identified them as Marvin Wells, a local assistant pastor, and Shana Ellis.
Six others were injured in the fire, including three firefighters. One of those firefighters was treated for leg injuries after part of the building's roof fell on him. The other two are in fair condition with smoke inhalation at Memorial Hermann Hospital.
At least two building occupants also were treated and released. Another, 48-year-old Yogesh Bali, is in critical condition at Memorial Hermann with throat injuries and smoke inhalation. Hospital officials said Bali had been in a fifth-floor office before firefighters rescued him.
Dozens of firefighters still awaited the go-ahead from engineers Thursday before launching a final search for more possible victims of the blaze.
Houston Fire Department District Chief Tommy J. Dowdy said a secondary search was necessary, despite indications that there were no missing employees or tenants from the Wednesday afternoon fire.
"Until we do that, we're not going to feel warm and fuzzy about it," he said. "We don't believe there's anybody in there, but it's just part of what we do."
Dowdy said a cursory observation shows that the six-story building's top two floors were substantially weakened by the four-alarm fire, the water used to put it out and the wind that has been blowing through the interior for 17 hours.
He said firefighters wouldn't go in until "somebody that has an engineering degree says, 'Oh yeah, you're fine.'"
Dowdy said that could be later this week.
The bodies of the three victims were removed at about 3 a.m., 10 hours after the afternoon rush-hour fire.
Dawn Herring was in a fourth-floor office when the fire started and said she never heard an alarm.
"We didn't realize there was a fire going on until I heard somebody scream," Herring told CNN Thursday. When she and her colleagues tried to leave, they found the hallways and both stairways filled with smoke.
"We had no other choice but to go back into the office," she said. "We finally broke a window, and we waited and waited. It seemed like forever for the fire department to bring the ladder over to our window."
Authorities believe the fire broke out in a medical supply firm on the fifth floor, but they were still investigating.
Roy Anderson and Larry Gill, who work at Rail Crew Express on the sixth floor, said they were outside smoking just as the business day was wrapping up when they heard an explosion and glass shattering from the firm's office. They later saw air tanks tumble through the shattered windows.
John Rentz, a vice president for Boxer Property Management of Houston, the building's owner, has not returned messages inquiring about the building and its fire-prevention capabilities.
Flames quickly shot from the building's top two floors, and heavy smoke blanketed a nearby 10-lane freeway during the evening rush hour.