- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A 23-year-old University of Maryland student died and another was injured yesterday in an early morning blaze in their off-campus apartment, fire officials said.

Investigators said David Ellis, of New York City, was not breathing when he was found at about 2:30 a.m. in his basement-apartment bedroom in the 7000 block of Rossburg Drive. Mr. Ellis was a senior majoring in American Studies, university officials said.

Prince George’s County Fire Department spokesman Mark Brady said investigators found a smoke detector in the apartment but do not know yet whether the device was working.

“Though it was hard-wired, it appears the battery had been removed,” Mr. Brady said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The six-unit building was occupied by Maryland students, Mr. Brady said.

The other student has been identified as Mr. Ellis’ roommate, but investigators have yet to release his name. Mr. Brady said the roommate returned home to discover the fire and attempted to enter the building to save Mr. Ellis. He was treated at a nearby hospital for smoke inhalation and released. Seven other residents who were home at the time escaped without injury.

Mr. Ellis was “awesome,” said Richard Lang, one of the residents, through soot-stained tears.

Mr. Brady said the fire was confined to the basement apartment and caused about $30,000 in damage to the building.

Rob Davies, 41, a landlord who rents two homes to students, said the landlord of the burned apartment bought it in September. The landlord and the previous owner were on the scene yesterday, but they declined to comment.

“It’s a tragedy to lose any life,” Mr. Davies said. “Hopefully it was not negligence on anybody’s part.”

Mr. Ellis, a self-described “hip hop enthusiast,” wrote for the student-run Black Explosion Newspaper and was a disc jockey for the campus radio station WMUC 88.1 FM.

The station’s Web site posted the message: “RIP Dave Ellis. We regret to inform you that Dave Ellis, who deejayed at WMUC under the name D. Ellis, tragically passed away early this morning. Dave was a DJ for WMUC for many years and a valued member of the WMUC community with a lot planned for this semester. His loss will be felt by all of us, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends.”

The broken windows scattered outside the building, a beer can near a wet sidewalk and Maryland students staring in disbelief yesterday morning was similar to the scene just nine months ago and several blocks away when classmate Michael Scrocca, 22, of Branchburg, N.J., died and another student was seriously injured in an early morning fire.

The April 2005 fire, in the 7500 block of Princeton Avenue, followed a party and also began in the early morning. Investigators have ruled the fire an arson but no arrests have been made.

Steve and Janet Kerpelman, private detectives for the Scrocca family, were on the scene of yesterday’s fire.

Mr. Kerpelman said the locations and times of the fires are similar but he doubts they are related.

“But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t see if there was a possibility that they are,” Mr. Kerpelman said.

The Scrocca family continues to look for answers and will attend a university basketball game next month to pass out fliers requesting information, Mr. Kerpelman said.

The family and police are offering a $50,000 reward for information on who started the fire, he also said.

Danny Melendez, a senior and University of Maryland football player, offered his sympathy to Mr. Elllis’ family and friends. He said the incident has made him more aware of possible fire hazards in his home.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Mr. Melendez, 21. “It’s unfortunate to know it’s a fellow student. It hits you more personal to know it’s another student.”

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