Man accused of starting fire that threatened 3 kids held without bond

The 19-year-old mother whose three children were trapped in a burning Riviera Beach apartment Friday came to court Sunday to see charges pressed against the father of her children who is accused of starting the fire.

Tranice Smith of Riviera Beach left the courtroom before he appeared, explaining before rushing out that she just could not stand to see him.

Palm Beach County Court Judge Mark Eissey denied bail for Velmando J. Williams, 22, of Riviera Beach. He is charged with three counts of kidnapping and false imprisonment, three counts of attempted murder, arson and simple battery after the fire at the Stonybrook Apartments, 1555 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Two of the children, boys ages 3 and 1, were rescued from the second-story apartment by neighbors who frantically hammered through the apartment’s hurricane-resistant windows using bats, chairs and their own feet to break the glass. Firefighters rescued the third child, a 1-month-old, from the burning apartment.

Police tape and boarded up windows marked the blackened and charred apartment on Sunday. The exterior paint appeared bubbled and boiled and the air smelled of ash.

A cellphone video of the chaotic scene posted on Facebook by Mayor Thomas Masters showed about a dozen residents scrambling on the second floor balcony to save the children. Smoke billowed from the windows as two of the children were pulled out before flames shot out the roof.

The flames appear about seven minutes into the video, which does not show firefighters battling the blaze on that side of the building, although sirens can be heard.

However, it was Riviera Beach firefighters who, using thermo-imaging equipment, fought through heavy smoke to rescue the 1-month-old girl from a bed where a fallen door formed a fire-break over her.

“I have no idea how that door ended up on top of that baby. I’ll take every bit of luck I can,” Riviera Beach Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Ken Brock told The Post Saturday.

The fire started after a dispute between Williams and Smith that resulted in a police call. Shortly after police received the call regarding the argument, more residents began calling to report the blaze.

A state fire marshal investigator later determined that the fire had been set intentionally. After speaking with Smith and other witnesses, Riviera Beach police arrested Williams.

Williams, who has a history of arrests in Palm Beach County, was placed on 12 months of probation in July after a charge of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Smith would not comment Sunday but on Saturday she fumed about Williams in an interview with The Post’s news partner, WPTV-News Channel 5. “I can’t even look at him no more,” she said.

See who’s been booked into the Palm Beach County Jail

The fire forced residents from nine nearby apartments to evacuate.

The complex’ management, which took over the oft-troubled complex in February, are working to find new units for the displaced families.

The 44-year-old complex, with more than 200 units in multiple low-rise buildings, has a long history as a hub of crime, code violations and miserable living conditions.

The families are staying in hotels or with family members, said Jeff Crossman of Millennia Housing Management. He said replacement units would be made available soon. He also is working to help Smith.

“We will do everything in our power for (the family) to be back here living in nice conditions,” Crossman said.

Millenia Management is buying the complex and plans a $10 million renovation, Crossman said. The property has recently increased security and has begun quarterly checks of the units to deter criminal activity, he said.

The city is attempting to help Smith’s children get new clothes. Information about donations can be obtained by calling the mayor’s citizen response team at 561-845-4145.

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