Fireworks-related blaze kills Richmond couple, injures son


The fire started in a converted garage on 21st Street where the husband and wife lived. Crews had the blaze under control in about 15 minutes, but it wasn't enough to save the couple. A lone survivor, the couple's 29-year-old son, is on life support with third degree burns over his entire body.

The flames at 2:30 in the morning were ferocious, trapping the husband and wife inside the converted garage.

"The noise, the noise, they were saying, 'take me out take me out,'" neighbor Alma Tamayo said. "Yeah, I think there were people inside because they were saying, 'help me, take me out, I couldn't get out,'"

Mearn Leepom, 56, and his wife Bounkeo Viengvilai, 50, died from smoke inhalation. They are immigrants form Laos and have been married about 30 years.

The Fourth of July evening began with a loud party that involved lots of alcohol and illegal fireworks, according to authorities and neighbors.

"They were all, you know, just kinda jumping over the firecrackers and fireworks and we thought that was kinda unusual because you could get burned that way, you know," neighbor Cassandra Savoy said. "But, yep, they were jumpin over the fireworks as they lit them."

After the party ended the couple's 29-year-old son, who is said to be mentally challenged, somehow caught on fire and tried to go back to his parents who were sleeping inside. This set the garage ablaze. Authorities are investigating whether he may have lit more fireworks and then tried to jump over them.

Family members gathered at a nearby home after stopping by the fire scene. Billy Viengvilai is the brother of the woman who died.

"She's friendly, very nice, very compassionate, took care of the family, she do all the work," he said.

Now this large family will have to plan funerals.

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