Questions linger after Kingman fire

05/08/2011 12:08 AM

05/08/2011 12:08 AM

KINGMAN — Sixteen days before Vashti Seacat's body was found in her home after an early morning fire, the 34-year-old wife and mother filed for divorce.

Court papers say that her husband of seven years, Brett Seacat, had 24 hours from the time of being served with divorce papers to vacate their home in Kingman.

In the April 30 fire, Brett Seacat — a former Sedgwick County sheriff's deputy and now a basic-training instructor for police recruits — made it out of the two-story home with the couple's 2- and 4-year-old sons.

As multiple agencies continue to investigate the death and fire, Brett Seacat said his wife had told him that she had filed for divorce and that they had "a pretty good weekend" together after she filed the petition.

The couple and their two children were still "doing everything together as a family," he said.

Rich Forrest, Vashti Seacat's older brother, said her family has a lot of questions.

A key question, Forrest said, is why Brett Seacat remained in the home when the divorce papers said he was supposed to have been gone.

Forrest said he spoke with his sister the day before the fire, "and her only comment to me is, 'Brett is really struggling with this, Brett is having an issue with this, Brett is begging me to reconsider.' "

"She was moving down the road," Forrest said.

She was working in human resources for Cox Communications in Wichita, according to her divorce papers.

The documents say she and her husband had become incompatible.

According to the court papers, Brett Seacat, 35, was ordered to pay $1,281 a month in child support beginning May 15.

In an interview with The Eagle, Brett Seacat acknowledged that he remained at the house.

"I was living there. I had never left."

As for the stipulation that he had to vacate within 24 hours, he said, "She told me that was entirely up to her."

He added, "I don't think she understood that I was going to have to leave" and that he didn't think she understood all that was laid out in the documents.

The fire

As for the fire, Brett Seacat said, "I don't know how it started."

He also said: "I know what I saw, but I don't know what happened that night.

"And what I saw was awful, totally inappropriate," he said, declining to elaborate.

"Everything I saw was awful, and she was beautiful, and it was totally unbefitting her," he said, without explaining.

"I never saw that night coming."

He added that "everything I saw, I told the investigators. I've told her family, and I've told my family what happened."

The investigation includes the Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Investigative agencies have referred all questions to the Kansas Attorney General's Office, which has declined to comment on the cause of the fire or the death or provide details of the incident.

'A good wife'

Brett Seacat described his wife as a "very kind person. She was a terrific mother, and even though we were having marriage troubles, she was a good wife."

At times during the interview, his voice caught, and tears welled in his eyes.

"She was also a really, just an exceptional daughter-in-law," he said. "My family is heartbroken over losing her."

He comes from a family of law enforcement officers.

He said he and his wife met 19 years ago at a state high school wrestling tournament at the Kansas Coliseum when he was with a Kingman team and she was helping with a rival team.

They married on the beach in Belize in 2004, "and she looked amazing," he said.

He described her as a "super mom" and himself as a "good dad."

He has seen a counselor for advice on how to help his young sons deal with what has happened, he said.

The interview with The Eagle occurred at the Kingman city park Thursday afternoon, a couple of hours before a candlelight vigil held in town that night, across the street from the Seacats' partially charred house.

Referring to the vigil, he said, "I want my boys to see how much everybody loved their mom. I don't want the boys to see their dad lynched, either."

Later, Brett Seacat came to the vigil and stood apart from a circle of dozens of people that included close relatives of Vashti Seacat.

Their backgrounds

Ed Pavey, director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, near Hutchinson, said Brett Seacat has been on funeral leave from his job there. Seacat teaches basic training to law enforcement recruits from around the state and has been with the center since about September 2008.

In 1999, Brett Seacat joined the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office. Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw said of Seacat: "I just remember him as being a very competent deputy that did his job."

Vashti Seacat, the youngest of four children, grew up in the Argonia and Harper communities and graduated from Wichita State University, said her mother, Julie Hostetler.

She was intelligent and kind, which made her a good fit for her job in human resources at Cox Communications, Hostetler said.

Although it could be a demanding job, Hostetler said, her daughter gave her children time-consuming, extra care. She nursed her children until they were at least 1 and fed them organic food. She prepared their baby food herself.

"She lived for those boys," Hostetler said. "She told me, very often, they were her life."

The fire scene

Forrest, Vashti Seacat's brother, said her family wants to "extend a very heartfelt sense of gratitude" to the volunteer firefighters and other first responders for their quick response to the fire.

Days after the blaze, Vashti Seacat's Volkswagen Passat remained in her driveway.

Yellow police tape surrounded the well-kept corner house. Tape had been placed across the doors. Police guarded the house.

From the street, the fire damage appeared to be heaviest at the back of the second floor, where walls stood exposed to the sky. What appeared to be the charred framework of a mattress box springs jutted off the second-floor porch. Blackened mattress springs lay on a tarp in the yard.

Just outside the police tape in the front yard, someone had set up bouquets of plastic flowers and an angel figurine.

Across the street from the house, neighbor Burel Nicks Jr. said he was in bed early that Saturday morning when he heard "a big bang." The wind was blowing hard. "Then I heard some loud crackling," Nicks said.

Light from outside — from the fire — had illuminated his front room. When he looked out, he saw flames shooting 20 feet above the chimney. When he called 911, a dispatcher said someone had already reported it.

He was initially worried about the pets and the small children across the street.

In the next couple of days, he saw authorities carry away what looked like several damaged rifles or shotguns. He watched as investigators used metal detectors and specially trained dogs. He also saw investigators line up what looked like half-gallon paint cans. One of the dogs went from can to can and appeared to sit down at one of the cans, he said.

Next door, neighbor Amanda Lynch had initially heard that everyone made it out of the house OK.

"I just thought it was so sad: What a beautiful old house," heavily damaged by fire.

"I never dreamed that she was still in there ... a shock ... just terrible."

Lynch said investigators asked her if she ever saw Brett Seacat burn things outside. Yes, she told them, in a trash barrel.

The day before the fire, Lynch said, she saw Brett Seacat walking around the block with his two sons. He often played with them in the yard.

Mother's Day

It's not clear what plans Vashti Seacat had for this Mother's Day.

Typically, her brother said, she and others would gather for the holiday at her mother's farm in Harper.

In her divorce petition, she put one thing in writing about Mother's Days to come: Although she and Brett Seacat would take turns having their sons on holidays, on each Mother's Day, the children were to spend the weekend with her.

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