3 arrested in Fero's Bar and Grill fire and homicides; robbery was motive, police said

Suspects are Dexter Lewis, Joseph and Lynell Hill

DENVER - Denver Police have arrested three men in the deaths of five people at Fero's Bar and Grill in Denver on Wednesday morning. Investigators said the motive for the homicides was robbery and the subsequent fire was set to cover up the killings.

Police said they arrested Dexter Lewis, 22, at about 11 p.m. Wednesday in a room at Shepherds Motel, 1525 Valentia St. A motel employee said Lewis had been staying there a couple months and was a "nice, quiet" guest.

Shortly after Lewis was arrested, officers arrested brothers Joseph Hill, 27, and Lynell Hill, 24, at the Best Inn and Suites Hotel near I-270 and Quebec Street.

Joseph Hill was arrested while working as the night front desk manager at the Best Inn and Suites, a hotel employee said. His brother was staying in a room there.

"We believe we have everyone identified that was involved," said Denver police commander Lt. Ronald Saunier.

Denver Police said agents with the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assisted with the arrests.

Saunier said he expects all three suspects to be charged with five counts of first-degree murder, five counts of felony murder, arson and aggravated robbery.

"The arson was set to cover up the crime scene," said Saunier.

Police would not say if the crime is connected to gang activity but did say the suspects may have visited the bar in the past.

Lewis and Lynell Hill made their first appearance in Denver court Thursday. Joseph Hill is scheduled to appear in jail on Friday morning.

Lynell Hill had no attorney, so his appearance was rescheduled for Friday morning.

Lewis, wearing a red jail suit and shackles, was tearful in court, looking back at his family members in the gallery and hanging his head.

Public defenders representing Lewis made motions for access to the crime scene and to unseal police statements supported his arrest warrant. A judge denied both motions.

All three suspects are being held in jail without bond.

7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost spoke with Lewis's mother, Tammesa Jones, outside court.

"He didn't do it," the mother said. She added that Lewis is engaged and his fiancee is 7-months pregnant with their child.

Both Lewis and Lynell Hill have criminal histories in Colorado; Joseph Hill has no criminal record here.

In May 2009, Lewis was arrested in Jefferson County on several counts of assault on a police officer, court records show. He pleaded guilty to felony menacing involving a real or simulated weapon and prosecutors dismissed the other charges.  

In a separate 2009 case, Lewis pleaded guilty to felony robbery.

Lewis was sentenced to a total of three years in state prison and was on parole when he was arrested in the Fero's killings, court records show.

Lewis's parole conditions required him to stay out of bars, not drink alcohol, not drive and attend sexual offender treatment. He was under the maximum level of parole supervision -- Intensive Supervised Parole -- which required him to have two in person contacts his parole officer each month, daily phone contact and take a weekly test for drug or alcohol use.

In August 2011, Lynell Hill was arrested on misdemeanor assault, reckless endangerment and harassment charges in Arapahoe County, court records say. He pleaded guilty to harassment involving physical force and was given a deferred nine-month sentence that allowed him to avoid jail if he stayed out of trouble.

At age 17, Lynell Hill was found guilty of bringing a weapon onto school grounds in North Carolina, court records show.

Joseph Hill, who calls himself a "singer songwriter" on his Facebook page, writes in a post, "Living each day I'm blessed with to the fullest. I'm learning to love me so i can love others. i think alot of us struggle with this whether you'll admit of or not."

“im a great person to know, if you're genuine," Joseph Hill writes. "im very hardworking and dedicated, and very ambitious as well. im chasing my dreams and it's becoming clearer and clearer everyday, im enjoying living while im here and able. nothings promised or free so im grinding for mine."

A Glendale police officer driving on Colorado Boulevard Wednesday at 1:48 a.m. was the first person to report the fire.

When firefighters arrived, they found smoke coming from the back of the restaurant on Colorado Boulevard near Alameda Avenue. As firefighters were fighting the fire, they pulled four women and one man from the fire, according to Denver Fire Lt. Phil Champagne.

The Denver Medical Examiner's Office identified the victims as bar owner Young Fero, 63; Daria M. Pohl, 21; Kellene Fallon, 44; Ross Richter, 29; and Tereasa Beesley, 45.

Their manner of death was listed as homicide.

"They [the victims] did not perish in the fire," said Saunier.

Police are not saying how the victims died. However, Fero's brother told 7NEWS that police told him his sister had been shot.

Champagne said there was extensive damage inside the bar, even though on the outside all you could see were charred windows. Champagne said the fire would have been difficult to survive even if the victims had suffered no trauma.

Saunier said the fire had been burning for 15 to 20 minutes before fire crews arrived.

 

Tuesday Night Was Quiet, Bar Patron Says

 

7NEWS has confirmed there were several poker games being played at the bar on Tuesday night.

Tim Johnson, who runs the poker games, told 7NEWS it was a quiet night. He said there didn't seem to be anyone upset and the night was so uneventful, he left at 10:45 p.m., when he usually stays until 2 a.m.

Johnson said other players were still there when he left.

"We were just playing poker, playing Texas Hold Em, having a good time and then who would've known three hours later, something like this happens," Johnson said.

He said the bar and grill has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.

"The place is usually calm. It gets night business from Applebee's and Shotgun Willie's because their kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. Usually nothing escalates there.  No fights, nothing  ... It's a tragedy."

Police said there were no calls about any disturbances at the restaurant on Tuesday night.

Fero's Was A Small Place

Matt Dunafon, who is the general manager at Shotgun Willie's,  a strip club about a block away, said the bar was not a place known for fights or commotion.

"There's never ...  I've never heard of any gun situation or fights, I mean,  it's a small place," he said.

Dunafon was close with the bar's owner, whom he described as a "house mother" for people who worked late because she would stay open until 2 a.m. making food and serving drinks.

 Dunafon described Young Fero as a tiny Korean-American woman who worked hard.

"I can't see anyone being very mad at her and her not being able to handle things because she did everything. She cooked, bussed,  bartended,  waitressed, everything," Dunafon said.

"Whenever I think of Fero's, you know, it's not even Fero's. It's Young. 'Let's go see Young.' I don't think anyone even says Fero's, we just think of Young," Dunafon said. "That's our place to go, or it was anyway."

Dunafon said news of the killings "scares the hell out of me." He said that kind of killing could happen at any bar open late and is rethinking security at Shotgun Willie's.

Chris Brady, a regular poker player at Fero's, told 7NEWS he was playing until 11 p.m. Tuesday night and everybody was having a great time and there were no problems.

Brady said he's very fond of Young Fero, who always had his pre-ordered meal ready when he arrived.

"She never took guff from anyone, but she was the sweetest woman," Brady said.

Thousands of people drive by Fero's Bar and Grill every day. It is on Colorado Boulevard, near Alameda, across from Target and Wells Fargo.

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