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“Makeshift” apartment leads to charges in Provo fire death

PROVO — Investigators say two men who knowingly allowed people to rent a makeshift, unsafe apartment are now facing charges in the death of a Provo woman who died in a fire in June.

Donna Clegg and her pet dog were killed in the early morning blaze on June 1, and when fire crews arrived, the apartment was fully engulfed with flames shooting through the roof.

However, fire officials say Clegg should have never been allowed to live there.  The probable cause statement says property owner, Kelly Ellis, even used words like “tinderbox” to describe how dangerous it was.

“Mr. Ellis did, in fact, describe it as a ‘death trap.’ He knew the building was unsafe.  He had been denied insurance coverage,” according to Provo Fire Investigator Lynn Schofield.

Investigators say the residence never cleared zoning regulations to be used as an apartment.  It was once used as a video rental store.  Schofield says it had no fire alarms, the windows were boarded up and the doors wouldn’t open as wide as they needed to.

In late May, the property manager, Homer Workman, cut off the electricity to reportedly force Clegg out of the building, however, Fire Chief Jim Miguel says that’s not the legal way to evict someone.

“There is no indication that they used legal means to try and evict the people that were in the building.  That legal process requires the sheriff and the constable,” Miguel says.

Clegg reportedly used candles for lighting, and Miguel says that could be the cause of the fire.

Karleen Holland, a representative of Clegg’s children, read a statement shortly after the charges were announced.

“Donna would give the shirt off her back to anyone in need.  Due to the tragic event, she is missing out on watching her grandchildren and soon-to-be grandchildren grow,” Holland says.

Both Ellis and Workman are charged with manslaughter, or in the alternative negligent homicide.  They’re also charged with failing to meet minimum health and safety standards.