Investigation of Janesville fire, death continues

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Neil Johnson
Sunday, July 2, 2017

JANESVILLE—Janesville police say the man who died in a house fire Saturday night on Janesville's north side had been released from police custody earlier in the evening after a drunken-driving arrest.

William F. Russell, 35, Janesville, was found dead inside a home at 1709 Hamilton Ave., Janesville, after fire broke out in the home at about 8:30 p.m., according to an alert issued Sunday by Janesville police. The alert also said Russell had just been released to a family member who lives at the home after he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.

The arrest came after an accident involving Russell at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday at East Centerway and Harding Street near downtown Janesville, according to the alert. Police said Russel's vehicle turned into the path of another vehicle on Centerway, injuring two Beloit women in the other car.

The two women were taken to Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville, where they were treated and released, police said. Police said Russell was not injured in the crash but that a blood sample was collected for testing.

He denied drinking, and he refused a field sobriety test, police said.

Janesville police released Russell to a family member around 7:35 p.m. Saturday, about an hour before the fire at the Hamilton Avenue home.

Russell faced counts of first-offense operating while intoxicated and causing injury in the crash. He also was cited for operating without insurance, failing to wear a seatbelt and failure to yield the right of way while turning, causing injury, police said.

Janesville police Sgt. Mike Blaser said Russell's drunken-driving arrest was considered a “misdemeanor, and not felony in nature” which allowed him to be released to a responsible party.

Blaser said when people arrested for drunken driving are released to a responsible party, police walk that party through a checklist of how to care for the person being released. The responsible party also must also sign a release stating he or she is capable of monitoring the arrested person for a specific period of time.

Blaser said police believe Russell was taken straight to the Hamilton Avenue home--where they were told he had been living--after his release. He showed no signs of being distraught, police said.

At about 8:30 p.m., fire broke out at the home. Officers and firefighters who responded said they later found Russell dead in a rear bedroom damaged by fire.

Sunday, authorities still were investigating the cause of the fire, but Russell's name was released after an autopsy showed cause of death was injuries related to, and caused by, the fire.

Janesville Fire Chief Randy Banker said investigators from the Janesville Fire Department, the Janesville Police Department and the state fire marshall's office still were working to learn what caused the fire, which also displaced a woman who lived there, he said. Neighbors who spotted the fire said they'd helped the woman exit the house, and that she was not injured, authorities said.

The blaze caused about $25,000 in damage to the home, according to an estimate by the fire department.

Banker told The Gazette on Sunday that the cause of the fire still is under investigation, and that he couldn't say whether investigators considered the fire suspicious.

"It's still being investigated, and the investigation takes it where it goes," he said. "We'll make a determination as it happens."

Last updated: 3:37 pm Sunday, July 2, 2017

Channel 3
Police: Janesville man killed in fire was arrested for OWI 2 hours earlier

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