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Lacey's Spring
home, spa burn

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

LACEY'S SPRING — A suspicious weekend fire destroyed a spa that police targeted in a past investigation into prostitution.

An unrelated fire, possibly sparked by lightning, burned a residence.

No one was hurt in either fire. They occurred within hours of each other.

The fire that raced through a building at 1138 U.S. 231 early Saturday, where Illusions day spa operated, might have been arson, according to Morgan County Chief Deputy Mike Corley.

"Fire officials on the scene did report to the sheriff's office that this fire was of a suspicious nature," Corley said Monday. "The sheriff's investigator that works fire-related crimes, investigator Jodie King, will be responding and following up with fire officials, and to possibly process the fire scene."

Marion Studer, Lacey's Spring firefighter and emergency medical services captain, said she did not go to the spa fire, but was told it was fully involved in flames when firefighters arrived, and was destroyed.

Lacey's Spring got help from Brindlee Mountain and Cotaco firefighters, she said, and they cleared the scene at 9:24 a.m.

Illusions owner Ann Mcelhaney of Huntsville said Monday she has not yet spoken with fire officials or law enforcement and could not elaborate on a suspicious fire.

"We just don't have any other information yet," she said. "We lost everything."

She said the building consisted of a mobile home of about 1,600 square feet with brick around it.

Mcelhaney said she plans to reopen, but doesn't know where. She said rebuilding will be difficult because she has no insurance.

"We're thinking about establishing a fund for those who might want to help us," she said.

Her business came under scrutiny May 15 when, according to sheriff's investigators, armed robbers hauled naked customers from private rooms during a robbery.

Afterward, investigator Terry Kelly told The Daily that two black males carrying handguns and an unarmed white female, wearing ski masks and bandannas over their faces, entered the spa at about 10:45 p.m.

Kelly said one of two female attendants on duty knew the combination to the safe and opened it.

He said the robbers took the women's purses, two male customers' wallets and money from the safe, totaling about $1,700 cash.

Kelly said both attendants and customers were naked.

"That's because the robbers made them take their clothes off and lie down in the floor," Mcelhaney said Monday, when asked about the incident.

She said she wasn't at the business at the time.

She also spoke about the fact that Illusions has previously been the subject of prostitution investigations by the sheriff's office and that following a raid on the spa in 2004, Huntsville police said it was part of a major prostitution ring.

"They tried to hook me to an escort agency," she said. "And basically, all we are is a hot tub rental (business). We offer attendants and that's it. There is no sexual anything. We don't offer anything sexual at all."

Lightning suspected

Studer said she is almost certain lightning ignited the other fire, which leveled Herbert Fields' home at 37 Fields Circle on Friday.

Studer said firefighters responded to Fields' residence Friday about 9 p.m. Fields is widely known in the area because of his involvement with the Tennessee River Coon Hunters Association. The group's lodge is on Fields Road, off U.S. 231.

"When we arrived, (the house) was fully involved and was a total loss," Studer said. "There was nothing we could do. We couldn't stop it."

Studer said firefighters believe lightning caused the fire because neighbors reported hearing a loud bang.

Studer said fighting the blaze was difficult because the hydrant on Black Ground Road was so far away.

She said firefighters departed about 1 a.m., and got the call about the spa fire about two hours later.

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