2 men arrested, 4 bodies removed from Lockwood mobile home that caught fire

2013-04-18T19:17:00Z 2014-07-01T10:40:08Z 2 men arrested, 4 bodies removed from Lockwood mobile home that caught fireBy ZACH BENOIT And ROB ROGERS zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Yellowstone County Sheriff's deputies arrested two men Thursday night in connection with four bodies found in a mobile home in Lockwood on Thursday evening, where a fire had burned early that morning.

Deputies picked up Zaccary John Kern, 21, and Robert Eric Bottenhagen, 21, both of Billings.

"They were arrested and charged with four counts of negligent homicide," said Sheriff Mike Linder. 

Kern was booked into the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, which shows an additional count of felony arson for Kern. Bottenhagen was booked in after midnight and also is listed as having a felony arson charge.  

Autopsies are planned for Friday, and the victims' names will not be released until all families are notified, said Yellowstone County Sheriff's Capt. Bill Michaelis.

A large group of family and friends stood in vigil all day at the scene of the fire.

Before the bodies were removed from the mobile home, law enforcement officials met with family members to give official word of the deaths. The bodies were taken away in vans from the Cremation and Funeral Gallery.

Deputies will continue to investigate at the home at 206 Hemlock Drive and the scene will be secured, Michaelis said.

He said officials didn’t know yet what caused the fire or how the four people died.

Lockwood Fire Chief Bill Rash said the fire was reported at 4:11 a.m. Thursday and two engines arrived seven minutes later. Smoke and flames were coming from the building's north side, which appears to be the kitchen area.

Fire crews managed to get inside the home and had the flames under control within 10 minutes, Rash said.

"They went in and were able to stage an interior offensive," he said. "The structure sustained extensive damage and there were no firefighter injuries.”

Rash said the early investigation didn't reveal anything suspicious.

By early afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had joined the investigation and the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office had secured a search warrant for the property.

Friends and family of the victims gathered near the scene throughout the day, at times numbering two dozen. They stood outside the hazard-taped perimeter waiting for answers, many sipping from cans of Mountain Dew, smoking cigarettes and talking and laughing.

At times, the parked cars of friends and relatives stretched more 50 yards south down normally quiet tree-lined Hemlock Drive.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., sheriff’s deputies met with a group of family and friends and confirmed the four deaths. The news spread through the group, as many cried and hugged each other.

More than 12 hours earlier, before fire crews arrived, a pair of neighbors tried to get into the burning home to see if anybody was inside.

Troy Donges lives across the street and said that a man, possibly in his early 30s, lived in the house and that he thought a woman and several children had moved out earlier in the month.

Donges' son was up listening to music when he heard a loud bang and thought an animal had hit the side of their home. He looked out the window, saw flames coming from the mobile home and woke up his dad.

"When I saw the flames, I ran outside," Donges said. "There used to be a family that lived there and that was my first thought."

He wasn't sure how hot it was inside and started banging on the side of the trailer, both to test the heat and to wake up anybody who might be inside.

"I was hitting the trailer as hard as I could with my hand," Donges said. "There was so much smoke in there, I don't know how anybody could've survived. People told me every time I hit it, it sounded like a gunshot and it woke them up."

Dale Holthues lives next to the mobile home that caught fire and said he was in bed when a motion light in the driveway went off, catching his and his wife's attention.

He said that once they saw the flames, he ran to the home to try to get occupants out while his wife called 911.

Holthues tried to kick in two different doors, while Donges banged on the house's sides, but couldn't get them open and received no response from inside.

"We could not get any results," he said. "I don't if they were sleeping or what."

Sheriff's deputies searched vehicles parked in front of the home. Yellow crime scene tape was placed around the driveway to the home and part of Hemlock Drive was closed to traffic.

Lockwood fire responded with 17 firefighters, two engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and a command vehicle. NorthWestern Energy also responded.

Gazette reporter Tom Lutey contributed to this story.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(46) Comments

  1. Big Sky Why
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    Big Sky Why - May 09, 2013 8:59 am
    Why haven't these two been charged in District Court yet?
  2. IHateYouAll
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    IHateYouAll - April 25, 2013 3:16 pm
    Such a tragic situation. Prayers to all: The grieving friends and family, the boys in jail for a night gone horribly wrong, the sweet angels in heaven, and those with hate in their soul.
  3. ruby
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    ruby - April 25, 2013 10:24 am
    lldt~ that was incredibly insensitive of you to post!!! Interesting that you felt the need to post such hate under a screen name rather than your real name. You don't have the courage to let the loved ones of these victims know exactly who you are.

    Perhaps you will want to look up the term "victim". Get familiar with it. The victims are guilty of nothing!!!! Grown adults don't play with fire!! Period!!!
  4. ZP
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    ZP - April 25, 2013 8:26 am
    And very sorry to the families' loss
  5. ZP
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    ZP - April 25, 2013 8:24 am
    Sorry for your loss
  6. ZP
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    ZP - April 25, 2013 8:23 am
    Your glaring lack of knowledge of the criminal justice system is scary. First of all, they haven't been convicted. There are therefore innocent until then. Judges sentence convicts but they don't control parole.
  7. lldt
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    lldt - April 24, 2013 10:00 pm
    How did these people get from the bar to the trailer? Drunk driver? Where was the person reponsible for the trailer? Drunk passed out? Why would you leave 2 drunk boys sitn there and go to bed? Oh wait were in the bedroom so the 3 rd person was up with the boys? The home owner or renter is just as responsible as these boys! You don't go to bed without making sure things are OK.
  8. Big Sky Why
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    Big Sky Why - April 24, 2013 4:52 pm
    Amen Sheryl Ann.
  9. armed citizen
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    armed citizen - April 24, 2013 3:48 pm
    I don't care what the comments are the fact is 4 people are dead and 2 people who started the fire are still alive soo far. They should have to pay with their lives, but knowing these judges past history of letting this type off they will be back on the streets in a couple of months just like all the other felons going before the Billings judges!
  10. ruby
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    ruby - April 22, 2013 10:55 am
    Mlf1212~ don't worry about the ignorance in masses. They clearly don't understand tragedy or loss. I would have sent food to all of you if I was in the area myself. Basic human needs don't stop in time of sadness or tragedy. They must not realize that even the hospitals put a cart of foods and drinks outside the room of a patient who's family has gathered for their last moments.

    I am sorry for the loss of your friends. Comfort and console each other how you need.
  11. Mlf1232
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    Mlf1232 - April 22, 2013 12:36 am
    I am really good friends with the girls that were killed and I was there the whole day. We did not order pizza. Someone had brought the food and MT Dew to us. And we were laughing and sharing memories. There were a lot of tears. There is a lot of information that the cops are holding. That the press does not know. People like to assume and then judge others. The reporters tried to talk to us but we told them that it's not the right time or place and to please leave. People need to realize don't believe or judge what you read!!!
  12. Karmatic
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    Karmatic - April 21, 2013 11:25 am
    Thanks Ruby for clarifying.
  13. ruby
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    ruby - April 20, 2013 9:25 pm
    Agreed Laughter!!! Four families are grieving the loss of loved ones. Two more are grieving a different loss as their sons are facing serious charges.

    It doesn't matter if they ordered Pizza or were dancing whatever they were doing. These people are handling a situation that the rest of us pray we never have to know personally. As I sat next to my grandmothers death bed, I laughed, cried, slept and ate. None of that meant that that I was happy about the situation. I miss her everyday and all these years later, I still reach for the phone to call her. I fight not to just "drop in" at her house. People that are on the outside judging clearly don't know a devastating loss. If they did, they wouldn't be so consumed with the details of how family, friends and neighbors were behaving.
  14. Laughter
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    Laughter - April 20, 2013 8:07 pm
    The authorities owe no answers while an active investigation is under way something you two apparently don't understand but the reporters do. And by law, there will be info not even the BG will get and they know it.
  15. Laughter
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    Laughter - April 20, 2013 7:57 pm
    Also Ruby, as you probably know, inappropriate laughing isn't that uncommon a malady in high stress, uncomfortable situations, nervousness. We've all seen where someone will laugh when others are crying or at a funeral or a wedding etc.....it's an embarrassing situational reaction and oft times the person who has it suffers public humiliation and self-denigration as the harder they try to stop the worse it becomes. I actually feel sorry for people who suffer from inappropriate laughing because they are "dying inside", as the saying goes, as they laugh.
  16. sarah lynn
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    sarah lynn - April 20, 2013 6:06 pm
    Several people reading that article were confused as to why the word "laughing" was in there. What did that mean?
  17. TLGS
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    TLGS - April 20, 2013 2:51 am
    My heart goes out to the families but I have an opinion on some comments made. Have any of you stopped to think that this could have been an accident? I understand that people are upset and they want someone held responsible but to immediately consider two people that you don't know deliberately murdered these people without witnessing it yourself....bold. What if these two 21 year olds are innocent? How scared would you be if you were sitting in jail for something you didn't do. It's best to leave the judging to the judge. Voice your opinion after all the facts are present.
  18. Bambam
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    Bambam - April 19, 2013 4:39 pm
    drugs kill
  19. Los Cangrejos
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    Los Cangrejos - April 19, 2013 3:08 pm
    Exactly right. Ask questions and TELL US when someone won't answer. You know, basic journalism.
  20. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
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    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - April 19, 2013 3:07 pm
    What happened? Drugs, execution, accident?

  21. Bro10
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    Bro10 - April 19, 2013 2:29 pm
    Well said!
  22. Bro10
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    Bro10 - April 19, 2013 2:28 pm
    Seriously? You worried about what funeral home people were wearing? This is a tragedy and I think bigger concerns than what the funeral home people were wearing!

    You're a tool!
  23. Andy7
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    Andy7 - April 19, 2013 1:09 pm
    I knew one of the girls who died in this fire. She had an amazing personality, and a contagious smile. I never seen her without a smile on her face. She had a way to make you laugh if you were sad. RIP Brandi. You will be deeply missed. My thoughts and prayers go out the famalies. I cant imagine what they are going through.
  24. ruby
    Report Abuse
    ruby - April 19, 2013 11:53 am
    Karmatic~ I know who you are talking about. The reason it isn't plastered all over the news is because it is a different circumstance and if the family doesn't want it public they don't have to do interviews and such. This situation is public due to the nature of the crime. All fires end up in the newspaper and this one had more with it.

    For the fool who is worried a out a tie, why should they come out in a tie? The only one lacking class here is you for that comment.

    To those worried about the drinking mt dew and laughing bit. In time of tragedy, that is often how people console each other. With stories and laughter of the loved ones lost. Not everyone has to be a puddle of sobs.
  25. MTmom1
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    MTmom1 - April 19, 2013 11:52 am
    My heart goes out to the families. I must say how disrespectful to have a pizza delivered to the site, dancing, playing music, laughing while the families were standing right there. A guy said he wondered how many Facebook posts had been made while they were there. It is alright to show your support to the family but this was not the way. Look at the pictures on the gazette to see the families sorrow. Read the words in the paper how it described the friends there. I would hope all the friends that were there will still go and show support to the families.
  26. thewise1
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    thewise1 - April 19, 2013 11:17 am
    I am so sorry for all who knew these innocent people. What a waste of lives. I pray for swift, harsh punishment for these two inhuman monsters.
  27. cathy01
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    cathy01 - April 19, 2013 11:14 am
    My first thought when i read this article was who wrote this!!!! Four people are dead and your focus is on that family members and friends are drinking Mountain Dew, smoking cigs and laughing REALLY?????????? Iam sure they were in shock and could care less what you thought!!! My sincere condolences go out to the Family I think who ever wrote this article and their superviser who approved this should be reprimanded!! Shame on you
  28. twobars
    Report Abuse
    twobars - April 19, 2013 10:51 am
    I pray for my cousins who now have to bury 2 children and the other 2 families that lost children are well. This is just another sensless act of violence that has ended 4 lives too soon. May all they all rest in peace and justice be swift and direct.
  29. rainbowed
    Report Abuse
    rainbowed - April 19, 2013 10:50 am
    Some people never grow up.

    Other people don't care what they teach their kids. Some societies enable the "teachers" proudly and loudly.
  30. Karmatic
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    Karmatic - April 19, 2013 10:42 am
    What I dont undersatnd is why some crimes make the headlines and others go unheard of! What about the recent death of a 34 year old in Billings who died under suscpicious circumstances? Nothing has been reported on it , although it was all over facebook. I understand it could still be under investigation but many other incidences are reported that are also under investigation!
  31. Big Sky Why
    Report Abuse
    Big Sky Why - April 19, 2013 10:32 am
    To all of you making comments. This is a terrible tragedy. These 2 punks murdered 4 people. The charges should be deliberate homicide and arson. I am friends with the family of one of the victims. How do you explain this after 20 years of friendship. Keep your insensitive, stupid remarks out of here. I pray for powerful and swift justice for these two. They should receive the same sentence they gave these 4 people. I will pray for the families of all 4 victims. What a terrible tragedy. Billings isn't exempt from slime ball punks.
  32. bo
    Report Abuse
    bo - April 19, 2013 10:21 am
    Look above -- it says comments, not condolences. There have been plenty of stories where family and friends will take offense to comments made by others, jump on and reply, and the arguments and insults ensue. If you are a family member or friend, it's best not to read the comments, they can be brutal. And they are only someone's opinion.
  33. telecom
    Report Abuse
    telecom - April 19, 2013 10:09 am
    Well said !!
  34. beautiful
    Report Abuse
    beautiful - April 19, 2013 9:42 am
    Sorry for the loss to the families. Sorry for the ignorance of our community too. Had this happened on another side of rotten there would be over 50 posts about this crime... Or had those boys had neck tattoos. A crime it's not less severe our hurtful to the people, regardless of where it occurs or what the suspects look like.
  35. SherylAnn
    Report Abuse
    SherylAnn - April 19, 2013 9:38 am
    WOW! let me just say... as a out of town friend to someone who has lost loved ones in this tragedy, Some of the comments made here are un called for! This is a tragedy people! who cares who wore what! 4 young lives have been lost forever, these people had parents siblings children and loved ones that are grieving!!! The WHOLE story will be revealed in due time and making un educated comments are cruel and ignorant. SHOW some RESPECT!
    Best to use the old saying....If you don't have something nice to say.....Best not to say anything!! To the family's and friends who have lost a loved one in this horrible tragedy, Please accept my condolences,words are never enough when you loose a loved one, again I am so sorry...
  36. Roundupbob
    Report Abuse
    Roundupbob - April 19, 2013 9:19 am
    You are sick!
  37. SlackJaw
    Report Abuse
    SlackJaw - April 19, 2013 9:02 am
    The article says one man was charged with felony arson, which indicates the investigators have more information than they're admitting to. The point is that the BG should be asking questions, not just mindlessly printing whatever is handed to them.
  38. linderlu
    Report Abuse
    linderlu - April 19, 2013 8:18 am
    You seem to be assuming that the BG has ALL the information, which is highly unlikely. In addition, it's entirely possible to initially determine that there is foul play without having a specific report on the details. I'm sure they are moving as fast as they can to get all the facts together.

    My prayers are with this family. I'm so sorry for your loss.
  39. Bambam
    Report Abuse
    Bambam - April 19, 2013 8:02 am
    I suppose the firefighters should show up in ties too... removing the deceased form a burned out trailer doesn't require a tie...
  40. fixitguy
    Report Abuse
    fixitguy - April 19, 2013 7:45 am
    Who cares who was wearing a tie or not??
  41. staceyronq
    Report Abuse
    staceyronq - April 19, 2013 7:09 am
    rainbowed how about drugs what fun eh people. kids don't read this. your point might be taken more serious. your point I get tough.
  42. rainbowed
    Report Abuse
    rainbowed - April 19, 2013 5:43 am
    "the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had joined the investigation "

    Sounds like a case of drugs, what fun, eh kids...
  43. cme
    Report Abuse
    cme - April 19, 2013 12:55 am
    if they don't know how the fire started or how the people died, why were 2 men arrested in connection with the deaths. there is something missing here.
  44. DR
    Report Abuse
    DR - April 19, 2013 12:51 am
    Negligent homicide? What were they doing?
  45. simpleenuf
    Report Abuse
    simpleenuf - April 18, 2013 11:21 pm
    This is sad. After looking through the pics I notice the funeral home people couldn't be bothered to put on a tie. I guess I assumed they had a little more class than that.
  46. bees
    Report Abuse
    bees - April 18, 2013 8:50 pm
    I am so sorry for these families losses. How tragic this is. Also remembering the firemen and responders who took care of the fire and the casualties.
    What a hard job!

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