A disastrous fire demolished the home of former tennis star James Blake, killing a total of four people (two adults and two adolescents). Officials say the fire in Tampa’s prestigious Avila neighborhood shows strong evidence of arson. Col. Donna Lusczynski of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s stated Blake rented the home to the Campbell family. Records from voter registration revealed them as Darrin Campbell and his wife, Kimberly. Officials say they won’t be certain of the victims’ identities until detailed autopsies are completed.
The Campells are described as a well-adjusted, amicable family by former neighbor, George Connley. “They were a very nice family, we know nothing of any problems…The kids were outstanding children. This is very difficult to put our arms around.” Mary Campell, the mother of victim Darrin Campell, told reporters that her son knew James Blake and had been renting his home for the past two years. “He was my baby,” Mary Campbell told news reporters at her home in Arizona. “I have seven kids and he was the youngest. He called me every single day. I’m out in Tucson, and he wanted to make sure I was taken care of.” Darrin Campbell was the treasurer of Carrollwood Day School, the same school that his children attended.
Firefighters who responded to the call stated that the home of James Blake was in utter chaos upon their arrival. Nacole Revette, a representative for Hillsborough Fire Rescue said that the flames were coming in from the roof. They fought the fire from the inside at first, but it became too dangerous, so they had to pull the crew out and fight it from the outside. The flames whipped and whirled for hours before the firefighters could discover the bodies of those inside. The fire damaged a considerable amount of potential evidence that could have highlighted what really happened.
The fire at the five bedroom and bathroom home was reported about 6 a.m. Wednesday by a bystander who was walking their dogs. “I was walking my dogs, and I walked by the house and it exploded,” said the frantic caller to 911 dispatch. James Blake purchased the home in the Avila subdivision in 2005 for $1.5 million. The fire -which destroyed the home and most of what was inside- was described as unusual by Lusczynski. There were remnants of various fireworks throughout the home. No weapons were found inside the home, but murder-suicide is a strong possibility. Known for its security and high profile of athletic inhabitants and their mansions, this a very rare occurrence in the Avila subdivision. Investigators have determined that two of the victims had “upper-body trauma,” not much more information was given besides that diagnosis. It has yet to be discovered whether the fire was responsible for the death of the victims. The county medical examiner still needs to perform more thorough autopsies.
Blake, 34, was ranked fourth on the ATP world tour in 2006. He retired in 2013. He also founded the James Blake Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding cancer research, in recognition of his father who died of gastric cancer.
Carlos Fleming, Blake’s agent, told The Associated Press that Blake was not in Florida during the fire. He declined to give any other statements. James Blake has also refused to comment on the fire which destroyed his home, or on the people who died because of it.
By Andres Loubriel