Body ID’d after Merced house fire; cause of death remains unclear

11/27/2013 12:20 PM

12/04/2013 11:17 PM

The man whose body was found Tuesday in an empty home that caught fire has been identified, but the cause of death is unclear.

James Tilghman Jr., 32, who was described by authorities as a transient, was found dead on the floor in an empty house at 1670 E. 21st St. in Merced after firefighters extinguished a small fire.

The Merced County Coroner’s Office released the man’s identity Wednesday after notifying the man’s family.

Sun-Star efforts to reach the man’s family were not successful.

An autopsy was underway Wednesday morning, Merced police Capt. Bimley West confirmed, but the results of the examination were not immediately available.

“We are looking into whether there was any foul play involved, but we may not be able to determine that until the coroner’s report is completed,” West said.

Police Capt. Tom Trindad said there were no obvious signs pointing to a specific cause of death.

Merced Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin said the cause of the fire was still under investigation and said arson “has not been ruled out 100 percent.”

“The circumstances are not pointing in that direction (arson), but nothing has been completely ruled out at this point,” McLaughlin said. He said the man’s body was “significantly damaged” in the fire and said it may take several days for police and firefighters to complete their joint investigation.

Firefighters responded to the fire at 3:34 p.m. Tuesday and found Tilghman’s body in an empty bedroom in the northwest corner of the home. Firefighters contained the flames to that room.

Neighbors said the 984-square-foot, two-bedroom home was foreclosed upon several years ago and has since been a hot spot for transients, squatters and others who would enter the house through the backyard. Area residents said the home was purchased earlier this year and put up for sale.

Chad Mathews, the real estate agent handling the property, confirmed that the home was for sale and that a new buyer had been in place, but declined to comment further.

Efforts to reach the homeowner directly on Wednesday were not successful.

According to real estate websites, the home was built in 1948 and assessed at $56,279.

A damage estimate has not been released.

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