0

Apartments lost to fire; home of Coke secrets thief among those burned

NORCROSS - A two-alarm fire displaced 19 families Friday and destroyed 10 units of Hunter's Pointe apartment complex in Norcross, including the residence of a former Coca-Cola secretary convicted Friday by a federal jury of conspiring to steal trade secrets.

Flames could be seen through the roof of the building housing apartment Nos. 1001 to 1010, and firefighters saw the smoke column several miles away as they responded to the 1:48 p.m. call, said Lt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

No injuries or deaths were reported, but a woman who was hysterical was treated in the parking lot by medics, he said. Gwinnett County Animal Control rescued a cat and a dog, neither of which were injured in the blaze.

Joya Williams, who faces up to 10 years in prison, has a listed address of 1009 Club Parkway, which is the address of one of the units heavily damaged by fire. She remains free on bond, pending sentencing.

Rutledge said he could not confirm the names of any of the occupants displaced by the fire. A woman who answered the phone at the leasing office hung up after a Post reporter asked if Williams lives there.

While firefighters were on the scene, several people stood and watched the action. Some wrapped themselves in blankets or sleeping bags.

One resident of a destroyed apartment, Hiram Brown, talked on a mobile telephone as firefighters were putting out hot spots.

Brown, 29, said he was at work when he heard about the fire. The loss of his home was a shock, but he said he wasn't going to dwell on the loss of material items.

"I can buy another TV and another bed," Brown said. "No life was wasted. I'm happy."

Brown said he has renter's insurance, and he would likely seek assistance from the American Red Cross. He said he also has friends and family who can help him.

The Red Cross is assisting other displaced residents as well.

Four apartments suffered heavy fire damage, and six others suffered significant smoke, heat and water damage, Rutledge said. The damage was mainly on the top level of the "two-three split" building, which has two stories on one side and three on another, he said.

One of the damaged units was vacant.

Residents in 10 adjacent units were also displaced because utilities to the building were shut off, Rutledge said. A fire wall protected those units from being damaged by the flames.

Gwinnett fire investigators were working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to determine the cause and origin of the fire, which were undetermined and under active investigation Friday as of press time, Rutledge said. The fire has not been labeled as arson or as suspicious in origin, he said.