Suspect in fatal fire is mentally ill, mom says — (St Louis Post-Dispatch)

Original article no longer available

St Louis Post-Dispatch

By Kevin McDermott, POST-DISPATCH SPRINGFIELD BUREAU

04/19/2007

QUINCY, Ill. — A parolee who allegedly set a pre-dawn house fire Sunday that killed five young children had earlier stopped taking Prozac and other medication for bipolar disorder, the man’s mother said this week.

“He went to a zone he couldn’t get back from,” said Pamela Meeks-Washington, mother of Zachary Meeks, after a court hearing in which Meeks’ bond was set at $5 million.

Meeks-Washington claimed her son didn’t know the children were in the two-story, red-brick home near downtown Quincy when he allegedly set it on fire early Sunday, after an argument at an area nightclub with the children’s mother, who is his cousin.

“He loved those kids,” Meeks-Washington said.

Meeks, 27, remains in custody and could face the death penalty in the deaths of the five children: Kendall Edwards, 10; Althea Clark, 9; Camron Clark, 5; Khalil Clark, 3; and Kejuan Clark, 5 months.

The tragedy — which relatives say resulted from a long-simmering internal family fight — has rocked the small river town of Quincy, which normally experiences one or two crime-related deaths a year.

“That’s a real big dictionary,” Adams County State’s Attorney Jonathan Barnard said Tuesday, pointing to the large book on a shelf in his office near the Quincy town square, “but it doesn’t have the words to describe the impact of losing five children, like that.”

Meeks has an extensive criminal record, including two prison stints for aggravated battery and drugs. His mother said he also had battled bipolar disorder and had spent years on Prozac and other antidepressants.

She said that he had recently stopping taking those medications because he didn’t like the side effects, but that he had been planning to see a doctor this week about resuming treatment.

Officials and family members say the fire followed an argument between Meeks and the mother of the five children, identified in the police report as Jeannetta Gavin.

Meeks-Washington said Tuesday that Gavin was the daughter of her mother’s sister. She said Meeks and Gavin had apparently been arguing about an issue that had come up before within the family, having to do with allegations that some family members had earlier turned other members in to the police. Meeks-Washington said she didn’t have further details about the conflict.

After the argument at the nightclub, Meeks allegedly set the fire about 3 a.m. at the home, which is situated in a modest neighborhood near downtown Quincy. He was arrested three hours later at another home two blocks away.

“He didn’t know those children were home” at the time of the fire, said Meeks-Washington. “In my heart, I don’t believe Zachary meant to kill his people. I don’t believe he meant to kill anyone.”

The children’s parents, Gavin and Keith Clark, both were injured attempting to get the children out of the burning building. Clark was hospitalized at Springfield’s Memorial Medical Center, which discharged him Tuesday, according to a spokeswoman. They and other relatives couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

Meeks, 27, remains in custody in lieu of a $5 million bond set Tuesday. However, he also is accused of parole violation, which means he wouldn’t be allowed to post bail even if he could come up with the money. He was paroled in December after serving prison time on a 2005 drug conviction.

Prosecutors will seek to have Meeks’ bond revoked at a hearing set for today, based on his past criminal record and the seriousness of the crime

kmcdermott@post-dispatch.com

217-782-4912