- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Arlington County police are trying to determine why a 17-year-old fell nine stories to his death down an apartment complex's chimney while hanging out with friends on the rooftop.

The incident occurred about 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Wakefield Towers Apartments in the 4300 block of Columbia Pike, but police were not called to the scene until 5 a.m. yesterday. Two boys and two girls had gone on the roof for some unspecified reason, police said.

Police spokesman Jim Page said the death is being investigated as an accident, and no arrests have been made. Police did not identify any of the youths involved in the incident.

"It appears to be an accident. But the other youths, all 18-year-olds, are being interviewed by our robbery-homicide detectives," Mr. Page said. "We want to make absolutely sure this child was not thrown down the chimney."

Arlington police are suspicious because the incident was not reported until about eight hours later, after one of the girls told her father what happened and he immediately called the police, Mr. Page said.

The Wakefield is an eight-story building with two chimney vents, 8 to 10 feet above the roof. The chimneys can only be reached by way of an attached steel ladder. Only one chimney opening is covered by a steel grate.

The teen fell upright 97 feet down the uncovered chimney. The impact shattered the bones in his legs and compressed his spine. His body was removed through a trap door 2 feet square in the building's boiler room and taken to the county medical examiner. The boy's parents were notified but police have not allowed them to see the body.

Police are unsure how the group gained access to the rooftop.

"Only authorized personnel working in the building are allowed on the roof and the door is always locked otherwise," said Mimi Kebede, Wakefield assistant building manager.

Mrs. Kebede said there has never been an incident of this type or any incident involving residents getting on the roof.

"We don't know how they got up there," she said.

There were no signs of forced entry, Mr. Page said, adding that the deadbolt lock on the rooftop door must have been unlocked.

The group had a video camera and possibly was fooling around filming themselves, but Mr. Page said police could not be sure.

"A lot of times kids get on these roofs and they don't know what they are getting themselves into," Mr. Page said.

There are no lights on the roof and visibility would have been poor given the hour, police said.

"It had to be a mistake and he simply stepped back or forward into the emptiness assuming the chimney was covered," Mr. Page said.

"It was dark. They could not have seen the opening."


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