Fire sprinkler flood leads to felony charge

Posted at 10:12 AM, Jan 24, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- A Richmond woman has been charged with a felony after investigators said she tampered with a fire sprinkler.

Water from the broken sprinkler flooded the Grace Place apartment building last week, according to Richmond fire spokesman Lt. Robbie Hagaman.

Gloria Snead, 56, is charged with felony destruction of property and misdemeanor violation of the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code.

Hagaman said fire crews found the broken sprinkler in a closest in an apartment on the 8th floor. Water from the sprinkler flowed from the apartment into the hallway.

Gloria Snead (PHOTO: Richmond Fire Dept.)

Gloria Snead (PHOTO: Richmond Fire Dept.)

"They noticed there was damage to multiple sprinkler heads -- and one was actually completely broken,” Hagaman said.

While Hagaman could not pinpoint exactly how the damage occurred, he told CBS 6 News' Sandra Jones that it was huge inconvenience for everyone involved.

"It took that protection system out of play for quite some time," Hagaman said. "It took us the fire department our resources basically kept them there for an extended period of time where we could have been available to respond to other incidences...”

Hagaman also said that what Snead is accused of doing is not an unusual crime.

"It's not something that we don't see, [but] it's not something that we see very frequently because most people I think have the understanding... [that] it's going to activate. It's going to do what it's designed to do,” said Hagaman.

City building code officials condemned the building due to water damage, Hagaman said.

The Red Cross is helping tenants, some of which are in hotels, find a new place to live.

CBS 6 has learned It could be early Spring before the 60 residents are allowed back into their apartment building.

Dwayne Smithers, one of the building's tenants, said he hopes Smead receives the "maximum penalty that she can get." He has been living inside a gymnasium inside the 5th Street Baptist Church since last Tuesday.

"I didn't expect to be outside my apartment this long. I thought it was just a regular fire drill,” Smithers said. "Why would she tamper with it and jeopardize everyone else's life?"

Tim Martin with Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office said Snead suffers from some type of mental illness, but could not elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.

Snead is scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 1.