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Malfunction in appliance faulted in fire that killed U. of Md. student


Prince George's County fire investigators have determined that a malfunction in an electrical appliance caused the blaze that killed a University of Maryland student last week in his off-campus apartment, the Fire Department said yesterday.

David Ellis, 22, a senior majoring in American studies, died at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park after firefighters found him unconscious and not breathing in his bedroom in the basement apartment where he lived with another student in the 7100 block of Rossburg Drive in College Park. The cause of death was smoke inhalation.

Investigators declined yesterday to identify the appliance that caused the fire, said Mark E. Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department. The appliance was in the apartment's combination kitchen and living room area, Brady said.

Ellis' roommate, Richard Lang, arrived home as smoke billowed from the building. He suffered minor injuries after attempting to rescue Ellis. Seven other occupants of the building's six apartments escaped.

The building where Ellis lived, in a group known by students as "Knox boxes" for their shape and proximity to nearby Knox Road, had been cited recently for code violations, according to Brady, who said its windows were not up to code. City of College Park Code Enforcement officials have declined to identify the nature of the violations.

Fire officials have been unable to determine whether the apartment's smoke detector was operating at the time of the fire. Brady said a witness told investigators that Ellis had removed the detector's battery. One of Ellis' friends said he disconnected the alarm because it frequently sounded while he was cooking.

"The smoke detector situation remains undetermined," Brady said. "We know for sure that the battery had been removed."

It was the second fatal fire involving a College Park student in the past year. Michael A. Scrocca, 22, a finance major from Branchburg, N.J., died April 30 in his second-floor bedroom of the off-campus house where he lived. A gasoline can was found on the front porch, evidence that helped prompt investigators to label the fire an arson. The crime is unsolved.

Ellis, a native of Princeton Junction, N.J., had lived in the apartment for three semesters. He was known on campus as the host of a hip-hop show on the university's radio station.

Damage to the building from the fire was estimated at $30,000.


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