published Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Woman dies in fire hours before court date


by Andy Johns
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Last week, Hazel Louise Reece told friends she noticed dry hay stashed under her Bledsoe County, Tenn., home and feared someone was going to try to kill her by burning her house down.

On Monday morning, hours before she was to appear in court in a case against her estranged husband, she was found dead, her Pikeville home burned down around her.

A man arriving to work on Reece’s well Monday called 911 when he saw the house was burned, according to Harold Blaylock, chief of the Griffith Fire Department, which responded to the scene. Reece, 63, was dead inside.

State arson investigators have been searching for clues since Monday, but Friday they would not comment on the investigation.

Attempts to reach Bledsoe County Sheriff Jimmy Morris were unsuccessful Friday, and messages were not returned.

Larry Billingsley, deputy medical examiner for the county, said the body was found inside the home, but he is not sure which room because everything was so badly burned. Reece’s remains were sent to a state lab in Nashville to determine the cause of death, he said.

Court officials said Reece was scheduled to be in Bledsoe County Circuit Court on Monday for the next step in legal proceedings against her husband, Charles Eugene Reece, 73, who was arrested and charged with domestic violence on June 7.

Eugene Reece is listed in the phone book as living at the house that burned down. No one answered when a call was placed to that number.

Blaylock said that, when his crew arrived, the house already was burned to the ground.

He said investigators told the fire company not to spray water on any smoldering hot spots to protect evidence.

Charles Evans, the victim’s brother, said his sister told him the previous week that someone was out to get her and mentioned the straw under the house.

“She said somebody was trying to burn her up in there,” he said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions there. Nobody will ever convince me it was an accident.”

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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