Owner made first 911 call in deadly Novi fire

Posted at 4:28 PM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-01 17:23:36-05

Outside the two-story house in the 23000 block of Mystic Forest Drive in Novi, one man left a single bouquet of flowers Monday morning in memory of the five young men who died in Sunday’s fire.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Hongwei Zhong said.

Novi police now know all five victims, who were in their mid-20s, were living in the basement of the home and worked together at Kim’s Garden Chinese restaurant on Novi Rd.

Police said birth certificates and other documentation found in the house showed they were from Mexico. It’s unclear whether any of them were related to one another.

“Obviously their status in terms of citizenship is another issue, why they were here, who they worked for, how long they were here,” Novi Public Safety Director David Molloy said.

Investigators have yet to further question the homeowner, the same man public records show owned or managed Kim’s Garden.

Police say he made the first 9-1-1 call around 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

“Hi, my house, I have fire,” he tells the dispatcher, in the calls released to 7 Action News.

“Sir where are the flames at?” the dispatcher asks.

“On the basement,” the homeowner answers.

The dispatcher then asks, “Are you able to get everybody out of the house?”

“Yeah,” the homeowner answers

It wasn't until firefighters arrived six minutes later that they realized five people were trapped in the basement. They tried to revive two with CPR, but none survived.

Molloy said although the basement was fully finished with a kitchen, there was no ventilation. The basement had glass-block windows and the only way the victims would have been able to escape were the stairs. Molloy said the men would have had just minutes to get out safely.

The city assessor's office also tells 7 Action News there's no record the house had a finished basement, or that the owner sought a permit for one.

Meanwhile, community members, including the Michigan chapter of the American Chinese Restaurant Alliance, are extending their thoughts and prayers to the victims' families.

"We are concerned to hear about this tragedy and are keeping tabs on the situation, and we'd like to extend our condolences to the families of the victims. It’s always a concern when something like this happens in the community, and we stand ready to help as needed,” said Lisa Gray, chairman of the board of the organization.

“We’ve never had anything this horrific. Obviously our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these victims, wherever they are,” Molloy said.

More on who the victims are, and the cause and manner of their deaths will be known after autopsies are completed by the Oakland County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Investigators are working with the Mexican consulate to help notify family members and also with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.