Woman Arrested by Pasadena Police Pleads Not Guilty in L.A. Fire That Killed Two People

The suspect was arrested by Pasadena police investigating an Old Pasadena robbery she allegedly committed the same day as the fire

Published : Tuesday, January 7, 2020 | 7:06 PM

Los Angeles Fire Dept. paramedics rush to rescue a man found in a burning Exposition Park house on Aug. 22. The woman accused of setting the fire, which in the end killed two people, was arrested by Pasadena police four days later. Video by RMG News.


A 24-year-old Los Angeles woman who allegedly set a fire at an Exposition Park boarding house after being locked out, killing two people, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to capital murder charges.

Khala Swasey is charged with two counts of murder stemming from the Aug. 22 fire at 1084 W. Leighton Ave.

Swasey was arrested Aug. 26 by Pasadena police for the robbery of a Sunglass Hut store at 89 W. Colorado Blvd. in Old Pasadena. Along with five other suspects, Swasey allegedly used a threat of violence to rob the store and fled in a car registered in her name.

Pasadena police traced her to an address in Gardena, where police there detained her. She was picked up and brought to Pasadena, where she was arrested for the robbery.

The next day, Aug. 27, Los Angeles Police took custody of Swasey in connection with Leighton Ave. arson fire.

Both the Old Pasadena robbery and the fatal fire occurred on Aug. 22.

The murder charges include the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder during the commission of an arson. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Swasey.

“She had been locked out of the residence and she was frustrated that she wasn’t being allowed back into the residence,” LAPD Captain William Hayes said shortly after Swasey’s arrest.

Firefighters sent to the boarding house about 12:45 a.m. found a building engulfed in flames and received reports that people were still inside the burning structure, according to Nicholas Prange of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

A search team found one person inside the home in grave condition, and as they were pulling the patient out, a second person was found in grave condition just inside the rear exit of the home, Prange said.

George Harris, 66, and Yolanda McGruder, 53, died at a hospital that day.

The owner of the home, Jason Hinds, said the two victims were a caregiver and her brother.

Hinds, who lived in the home with his wife and two children, said most of the residents had mental health issues.

During the rescue, an engineer working at a pump panel to provide water to firefighters heard reports of multiple patients being rescued and ran to the rear of the home to help pull them out, Prange said. The engineer suffered minor smoke inhalation and was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

LAFD Capt. Cody Weireter told reporters at the scene that the home may not have had working smoke detectors.

Swasey remains jailed without bail while awaiting her next court appearance Feb. 19 in downtown Los Angeles.

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