Coroner rules deaths of man, baby in house fire as homicides; woman arrested

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VERMILION, Ill. (WCIA) — The Edgar County Coroner says a 26-year-old woman has been arrested after his office ruled two deaths in a March 1 fire as homicides.

A press release from Coroner Scott Barrett says Michael and Nettie Phipps died in an early morning fire at their home in Vermilion, Ill. Crews were called to the scene around 1:40 a.m. in the Village of Vermilion, about 8 miles east of Paris.

Firefighters found a home fully engulfed in flames where they arrived. A woman and two young children were able to make it out of the home.

One of the children needed hospital care.

An autopsy showed that both died from a combination of breathing in carbon monoxide and smoke and thermal exposure.

“Michael was one of the most reliable, humble people you ever met. When you needed a friend, Michael was there. No matter what the situation was, no matter the time of the night anything,” said Stephanie Newell, friend of Michael Phipps.

The release says Michael Phipps was 35-years-old and Nettie Phipps was just 2-months-old when the fire happened. Friends say becoming a father was an accomplishment for Phipps.

“When he became a father, he became a new person. He glowed. He was the happiest man in the world. There was nothing that could make him anything but happy,” said Newell, “He loved his daughter. He was goal oriented to be the best father that she deserved and he knew he could be, and nothing and no one was going to get in the way of that.”

On Monday, the Illinois State Police (ISP) Division of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Zone 5, arrested 26-year-old Stefanie L. Sanders, Tuscola, for two counts of First Degree Murder (Class X Felony), two counts of Involuntary Manslaughter (Class 3 Felony), one count of Aggravated Arson (Class X Felony) and one count of Residential Arson (Class 1 Felony). 

Sanders is Nettie Phipp’s mother and was Michael Phipp’s girlfriend, Barrett says.

“There was so much more that baby could have been in. There’s so much Michael could have been as a father. They don’t get to experience any memories together. They don’t get to do any of the things they deserved to have done, that he deserved to have with that baby,” said Newell.

Anyone wishing to provide additional information regarding this investigation or other crimes are encouraged to contact the Illinois State Police Division of Criminal Investigations, Zone 5 at (217) 278-5004 (tip line, callers can remain anonymous), or by email at ISP.DCI.Zone05@Illinois.gov.

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