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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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Report: Carter Co. man likely committed suicide by fire; house was filled with gasoline

June 7th, 2013 11:29 am by John Thompson

Report: Carter Co. man likely committed suicide by fire; house was filled with gasoline

ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County Sheriff's Department suspects the death of a man in a house fire on Friday morning was a suicide.

Ricky Lynn McKinney, 61, 135 Quail Ridge Road, Johnson City, was found just 10-12 feet from the front door inside his home. Sgt. Kenny Cornett said the body was lying face down and appeared to be severely burned. An autopsy has been ordered. The sheriff's department is continuing to investigate the death and fire.

Sheriff Chris Mathes said there were several 5-gallon containers scattered around the house that were filled with gasoline.

"Fortunately, the fire did not reach the containers," Mathes said. The contents had not been poured out. One of the containers was close to the body.

Cornett wrote in his report on the incident that McKinney's wife was not at the residence at the time and had called 911 at 5:35 a.m. asking for a welfare check on her husband. Cornett wrote that she had just received a call from her husband, telling her the cats were outside and there was a video on his iPhone she needed to watch. The iPhone was in a storage building on the property.

Cornett said 911 first dispatched the call to Deputy Dave Ryan, but redirected him to another emergency that was near him. Cornett was then dispatched to Quail Ridge. He arrived at 6:18 a.m. and later said, "I could see a little steam or smoke coming from the eaves." He immediately called for the fire department to be dispatched.  

"I then went around to the front of the house to knock on the door at which time I noticed burn patterns above the windows and the front door. The windows were all smoked up, the front door was hot and I could smell a strong odor of smoke coming from the house," Cornett said.

The West Carter County Volunteer Fire Department arrived on the scene and Firefighters David Howland and Robert Cochran made entry by breaking the front door open.

They immediately found McKinney lying nearby, along with the containers of gasoline.

Cornett quickly called for Sgt. Brian Durham of the Investigations Division as well as Lt. Mike Little and Investigator Larry Vaughn. Coroner Benny Colbaugh also responded  to the scene.

Mathes said the message on the iPhone indicated McKinney's death was self-inflicted. The sheriff said his wife had fled the residence on Monday following another bizarre incident in which she smelled gasoline during the night and found a mop bucket filled with the flammable liquid. She had been staying with friends since Tuesday.

Mathes said a restraining order had been served on McKinney on Thursday.

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