BATON ROUGE- The owner of a group home that went up in flames just before Christmas leaving one man dead and another victim injured was not licensed by the State Department of Health and Hospitals, according to a DHH spokeswoman.
State guidelines require most group homes to get licenses through DHH. Group homes are set up for people who can't live on their own.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning believes the fire death and the injury could have been prevented. Browning said the problem on Donmoor is not isolated, and regulating group homes across the state is challenging.
"The deaths and injuries that we've seen and the fires we've seen, they've been in situations that did not go through DHH licensure," Browning said. "That's incumbent upon the owner to apply for that licensure."
Cynthia Jackson, the owner of the group home on Donmoor did not have such clearance.
In paperwork filed with the state, Jackson's businesses are classified as a rehab service and an independent living program. Following the fire, the State Fire Marshal found violations with the living conditions and put the brakes on Cynthia Jackson's business.
"After the fire on Donmoor, she transferred her other patients to another facility that day," Browning said. "We found out about it, and did a cursory inspection out of an abundance of caution. We found that building not be in compliance, issued a cease and desist. She had to remove those people but the people who were there we didn't know beforehand."
Following the death, Browning is sounding the alarm about how tough it is to regulate these types of homes.
"Unless we go out and find it or if someone calls us, we just don't know," Browning said. "It's like any other wrongdoing or crime, we need notification from the public to be able to do that job appropriately."
The news of the death comes a little too late for neighbors like PJ Potter.
"Wrong is wrong," Potter said. "Everyone deserves to be treated like a human, whether you're sick or whether you're normal."
WBRZ reached Cynthia Jackson by phone today. She said her home was under a different classification and did not require licensure by the Department of Health and Hospitals. We requested an interview with her. She said she had to talk to her attorney, but she never got back to us.