Bodies found in fire rubble believed to be of mother and daughter

L.A. County coroner K-9 handler Karina Peck guides a dog trained to detect human remains through the rubble of a fire at a mechanic's shop.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Two bodies have been discovered in the charred rubble of a Compton-area auto mechanic’s shop that caught fire early Monday, authorities said.

The discovery came after authorities used a cadaver dog to search the building in the 4300 block of East Compton Boulevard for a 42-year-old mother and her 12-year-old daughter who went missing during the two-alarm blaze, which was reported at about 2 a.m.

Four family members — a father and three children — were able to escape the fire, which had engulfed the shop and a second-level loft by the time firefighters arrived.

The identities of the bodies were not immediately released.


Joe Marsano, the brother-in-law of the mother, identified her as Teresa Lopez and her 12-year-old daughter as Margarita.

“I’ve seen this before in the news. I never thought this was going to happen to me. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

The coroner would not reveal the condition of the remains, but he said it could take days to positively identify the bodies, an indication that the bodies might be badly burned.

Los Angeles County Assistant Coroner Ed Winter said the bodies were found around noon in the back of a commercial building registered as a mechanic shop. The upstairs had been converted into a loft space.


Michelle Lockhart recalled seeing a young girl screaming and crying outside the burning building and trying to get inside to save her family.

“She was hysterical,” said Michelle Lockhart, who lives across the street. “It hurt me so bad to see her out there.”

Lockhart said she heard a loud explosion around the time the fire broke out.

“It shook my house a little bit,” she said. “I thought it was an earthquake.”


As she stood on a corner diagonal from the building, there was a second explosion. Lockhart and several other neighbors ducked for cover, she said.

“It was burning so hot, there is no way anybody could have gotten out of there,” she said.

L.A. County Fire Inspector Scott Miller described the loft as having “pack-rat-like conditions with heavy content.” Debris was stacked higher than the firefighters, making rescue efforts especially dangerous, he added.

The property had no record of being cited, according to the L.A. County Public Works Department.


Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives, meanwhile, were on the scene as officials investigated the cause of the fire.


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