Fire Fatal to Amputee Called Arson : Crime: Handicapped woman was trapped in her bedroom. Officers say the blaze may have been retaliation for drug deal gone bad.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A handicapped Monrovia woman was trapped in her bedroom early Saturday and died in a fire that authorities believe was started by an arsonist.

Officials said they had no suspects, and there were conflicting reports over the possibility that the house at 524 E. Cherry Ave. may have been set afire over a drug deal.

Elizabeth Hicks, 73, whose legs had been amputated at the knees, apparently died of smoke inhalation, according to authorities. Relatives and neighbors described Hicks as a popular woman whose amputations for medical problems had left her mostly bedridden.

The woman's 15-year-old grandson, Carl Reynolds--who relatives said had fallen asleep watching television in his grandmother's bedroom--escaped after the elderly woman awakened him when the fire started about 3 a.m.

The youth roused his grandfather, Arthur Hicks, 76, who was asleep in a camper parked in the driveway, according to the relatives. Hicks and his grandson tried to rescue the handicapped woman but could not get in, said Bruce Reynolds, who identified himself as the teen-ager's father. Arthur Hicks cut his hand breaking out a window in an attempt to re-enter the house, but was not taken to a hospital, authorities said.

Monrovia police officers, arriving just before the Monrovia Fire Department, crawled into the burning house to try to save the woman. But they could not find her in the smoke and had to abandon the search as the flames spread throughout the house, said Monrovia Police Detective Roger Johnson.

The woman's wheelchair was found not far from her body. One investigator said it appeared that Hicks was attempting to make a telephone call when she was overcome.

Johnson said investigators believe the fire was deliberately set, but he did not say how, or where. The motive may be revenge, Sheriff's Deputy Bill Linnemeyer said.

"Investigators say the home has been used on prior occasions to conduct illegal drug sales," Linnemeyer said. "They feel the fire, which is of suspicious origin, might be in retaliation for a prior narcotics transaction."

But Johnson said later that the investigation was not necessarily leading in that direction. He refused to say what progress was being made, however.

Houses in the neighborhood are small, stucco-covered buildings, some with bars over the windows. The Hicks family had lived in the neighborhood for as long as 20 years, relatives said.

One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said there is a lot of crack cocaine sold in the neighborhood. But the neighbor said she did not believe any was being sold at the Hicks house. "She was a very nice lady," the neighbor said. "It really hurt the neighborhood to see her go like that."

The house was a total loss and damage was estimated at $100,000, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which is assisting in the investigation.

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