published Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Pikeville death, fire probes continue

Bledsoe County authorities are investigating the circumstances surrounding a death and fire on July 25 as they await results of an autopsy being done in Nashville.

Sheriff Jimmy Morris said investigators still are trying to figure out whether the fire that burned down a house with Hazel Louise Reece inside was set intentionally and whether she was alive when it erupted.

"There have been interviews done, we just haven't determined anything yet," Morris said.

Reece, 63, was found dead inside her Pikeville, Tenn., home on July 25, just hours before she was scheduled to appear in court in a case against her estranged husband, 63-year-old Charles Eugene Reece.

The hearing, set for Bledsoe County Circuit Court, stemmed from his June 7 arrest on domestic violence charges, according to court officials and criminal records.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation background check shows Eugene Reece's only criminal history in Tennessee is that arrest in June.

A contractor who went to the home to work on a well on the morning of July 25 found only smoldering ruins, officials said.

Family members believe Hazel Reece might have known something was about to happen. She had told friends she saw dry hay stuffed under her home and was worried someone was going to try to kill her by burning down her house, according to her brother, Charles Evans.

Bledsoe County sheriff's Investigator Ricky Seals said authorities were "tracking down a lot of people" to question in the probe.

"At this point, there's been no one who has not been cooperative in the investigation," Seals said. "Mr. Reece has been completely cooperative."

Seals said he plans further interviews throughout the week.

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    Mike Taylor, district attorney for the 12th Judicial District

Mike Taylor, district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, said much of the investigation hinges on the pending results of initial probes.

"We're waiting on an autopsy report and waiting on cause and origin of the fire," he said.

There might be a problem prosecuting the June 7 domestic violence charge against Eugene Reece because the alleged victim in that case now is deceased, Taylor said.

Anyone with information about the death or fire is asked to call the state Bomb and Arson Division at 800-762-3017 or the Bledsoe County Sheriff's Office at 423-447-2197.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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