Hall of Shame: Playing with fire burns homeowners and hired torch

By James Quiggle
December 22, 2011

Victor and Olga Barriere wanted to burn down their rickety home for insurance money. They got their wish, but paid a higher price than any insurance money they could steal.

housefireTheir hired henchman was a rank amateur at home arsons. He blew up the house in a searing fireball, fatally engulfing himself in flames and endangering homes throughout the neighborhood.

The rundown, 600-square-foot structure in Long Beach, Calif. had numerous code violations that would require expensive repairs.

The Barrieres also were stuck with a $315,000 mortgage and a decaying home nobody wanted to buy. They’d tried to sell the house several times, but no buyers.

Fed up, they hired their handyman Thomas Trucios to barbecue the place for an insurance payday.

But Trucios had no idea how to start a proper arson fire. He spread dangerously large amounts of gasoline around the place.

The fumes built to critical mass and exploded when he lit the combustible brew. The blast jolted neighbors awake for several blocks. Large cracks were carved into the sidewalk and walls of the home. All of the place’s windows were shattered.

charredhouseTrucios never had a chance. The fireball seared him, causing third-degree burns over 95 percent of his body. Still, he somehow called his wife on his cell phone right after the blast. He even tried to drive home. His daughter said she could hear him through the phone, screaming while trying to tell his wife about the fire.

His family rushed to the scene and tried to get Trucios into his wife’s car and get him to the hospital.

“I saw his skin was peeling off, how some of it was stuck to the seat. “...the windows of the car kept fogging up...I could feel the heat...I knew my dad was still burning inside,” his 17-year-old daughter wrote in a victim-impact letter to the court while the Barrieres awaited sentencing.

Trucios died later that day at the USC Medical Center.

Insurance fraud cost Trucios his life. His grieving family also fell hard. They lost their primary emotional and financial support, his wife Leticia and her daughter said. Leticia also was so physically and emotionally traumatized that she lost her job.

funeralfamHis daughter, who’d just graduated from high school, had to support the family. She worked two jobs — from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight.

“My mom got very sick...” she wrote. “I couldn’t show any weakness. I had to stay strong for her and my brother.”

The Barrieres could’ve faced murder charges with a potential death sentence. But they never intended for Trucios to get hurt, they successfully argued.

Victor still received 14 years and four months in state prison for insurance fraud, manslaughter and arson. Olga received six years for fraud.

Leticia will live in her own private cell. "I have been sentenced for the rest of my life," she tearfully told the court.

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