CROWN POINT | A 19-year-old Lake Station man pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of arson in connection with the July deaths of a Gary woman and her teenage daughter.
In the plea deal, Trevontay Milsap admits to having driven co-defendant Rafael Peluyera, 22, also of Lake Station, to a location in Gary knowing Peluyera intended to kill two men at the residence and burn the house down.
Relatives told police Bernice King helped five of her six children escape the fire by jumping from a bedroom window, but King herself stayed with her 14-year-old daughter Angel Harris, who couldn't escape due to severe asthma. Both died in the fire July 25.
"My daughter died a hero," Janice King said, choking back tears, of her daughter Bernice King. "Bernice could not lift (Angel) up. She just covered her up and died with her daughter."
Milsap's sentencing, currently set to be argued Jan. 23, is capped at 22 years on each count with a minimum of 20 years to be served in prison without any option of alternative sentencing. The sentences are to be served concurrently, according to the plea deal.
Last week, Peluyera, 22, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder in perpetration of an arson, agreeing to serve a concurrent sentence of 65 years in prison.
Peluyera admitted to going to the apartment complex and bringing with him a can of gasoline to set the building on fire.
Peluyera is set for sentencing Jan. 11.
Milsap admitted to getting a phone call from Peluyera on July 25 asking Milsap to pick him up at his house where Peluyera got into Milsap's car with a can of gasoline, plea documents state.
Once in the car, Peluyera told Milsap he had been beaten and robbed by two men Peluyera wanted to kill and burn their house down, according to plea documents.
Milsap let Peluyera out of the car near the Lakeshore Dunes Apartments in Gary. Milsap admitted to driving around for a few minutes after dropping off Peluyera, hearing fire alarms and yelling, then returning to pick up Peluyera.
Following Wednesday's hearing, Janice King, mother and grandmother of the victims, said an account has been opened at Chase Bank to accept donations toward Christmas gifts for Bernice King's five surviving children.
The children, ages 6 to 17, have been in foster care since their mother's death in July. The children's father died in September, she said.
The children will be visiting for Christmas, but there is no money, she said.
A Chase Bank representative verified the account and said donations may be made at any Chase branch. The name on the account is "The Estate of Bernice King."
According to earlier reports to police, the fire was set over a disagreement with King's 17-year-old son, Antonio Harris, over an exchange involving a half-ounce of marijuana and an Xbox 360.
Court records state the disagreement began July 23 leading to a physical altercation July 24 and finally the fire on July 25.