What desperate emotions flashed through firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh as the burning nail salon’s brick wall crashed down on them? Did they even have time? Flames shot through a nail salon that Thu Hong Nguyen set to steal a $40,000 insurance payout in Kansas City, Mo. Leggio and Mesh died, and two other fire fighters were grievously injured combating Nguyen’s arson fire.

Ngueyen poured gallons of acetone and isopropyl alcohol into the stock room of her LN Nails and Spa. She lit the fire just before leaving work at 7 p.m.

The fire quickly grew into a three-alarm inferno battled by 110 firefighters. It was the largest fire Kansas City had seen in years. People lived in 16 apartments above Nguyen’s shop. Some needed rescuing.

Wall collapses with loud crack

Leggio and Mesh fought the blaze from an adjoining alley. Leggio was pulling a fan from a ground-floor window so Mesh could better hose the flames inside. A brick wall suddenly collapsed. Leggio was crushed from head to toe. Every organ was damaged. Two other firefighters were grievously injured.

Missy Leggio was in the neighborhood. She saw the wall collapse. A firefighter ran over to her, and someone helped her into a car that sped to the hospital. “I remember screaming in the car, ‘Is my husband dead?’” Missy said.

Nguyen burned down nail salons for a living — five in all. Her modus: Buy a salon, flame it for insurance, then live off the insurance money. She collected $268,000 in all. Nguyen was handed 74 years in Missouri state prison. Fire fighters Chris Anderson and Dan Werner also were struck by bricks when the wall fell. Anderson suffered five leg fractures and a traumatic brain injury. He still has post-traumatic stress disorder. Werner continues to battle depression.

Never said goodbye

Leggio and Mesh grew up in the neighborhood where they died. Leggio left Missy and his mother behind. Mesh never said goodby to his wife and four daughters. More than 5,000 people attended their memorial service. “Our hearts are broken, but our resolve to honor these brave men is strong,” said Fire Chief Paul Berardi. “… I vow we will never forget.”


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Read about previous year’s inductees to the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame: