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Man charged over deadly fire in secret tunnels under his house

FILE – In this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, Slide, Khafra, father of Askia Khafra, has a photo of his son in his Silver Springs, Md., home. The parents of the 21-year-old Askia Khafra indicted 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt and his father on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, the anniversary of the fire that killed Khafra in the basement of the Beckwitts’ house in Bethesda, Maryland. (AP Photo/Michael Kunzelman)

SILVER SPRING, Md. A rich stock trader’s negligence led to a deadly fire death of a young man who helped him build a network of tunnels for a bunker under a suburb of Washington, D. C., a home, a lawsuit claims.

The parents of the 21-year-old Askia Khafra indicted 27-year-old Daniel Beckwitt and his father on Monday, the anniversary of the fire that killed Khafra in the basement of the Beckwitts’ house in Bethesda, Maryland.

Daniel Beckwitt, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Khafra’s death. His criminal trial is scheduled to start in April 2019.

The “hoarding conditions” in Beckwitt’s home made the fire spread faster, and created a maze of junk and trash that hindered Khafra the opportunity to escape, the parents ‘ wrongful death lawsuit says.

Beckwitt not immediately respond to a call and a text message seeking comment on the lawsuit, the parents filed in Montgomery County court. A lawyer who represents Beckwitt in the criminal case has called Khafra’s death a tragic accident, not a crime.

The researchers found Khafra the charred body in the basement, where a hole in the concrete floor led to a shaft that fell from 20 feet (6 m) in the tunnels which branched out approximately 200 feet (60 m) in length.

During a hearing in May, Montgomery County prosecutor Douglas Wink described Beckwitt as a skilled computer hacker, who had a paranoid fixation on a possible nuclear attack from North Korea.

Beckwitt’s lawyer, Robert Bonsib, described his client as a successful “day trader” who has made millions trading stocks.

Khafra, who lived with his parents in Silver Spring, had met Beckwitt online and agreed to help him dig the tunnels in exchange for Beckwitt investment in an internet company, Khafra was the launch.

Dia Khafra, Askia Khafra’s father, said during a recent interview that he and his wife, Claudia, tried to convince Askia to stay away from Beckwitt the tunnels.

“I have always feared something dangerous would happen to him,” the elder Khafra said.

Beckwitt went to elaborate lengths to maintain the confidentiality of its tunnels, tricking Askia Khafra into thinking that he was digging them in Virginia, not Maryland, according to the authorities.

Beckwitt told investigators he would rent a car, pick-Khafra, and drive him in Manassas, Virginia, where he had the young man not blackout glasses” before you him about an hour, the police said. Khafra days spent in a time of work, eat and sleep in the tunnels. He had his cellphone with him, but Beckwitt used internet “spoofing” to make it appear he was in Virginia, according to Wink.

The tunnels had lights, a ventilation system and a heating system is powered by a “casual daisy chain” power strips that created a risk of fire, Wink said.

“These extension cords and power strips made of a clear and substantial risks of fire, exacerbated by the piles of paper and waste in the whole house, and the storage of dangerous substances, “the parents’ lawsuit says.

Wink said Beckwitt ignored “clear signs” of danger before the fire broke out Sept. 10, 2017. Hours before the fire, Khafra sms Beckwitt to warn him of the smoke there is smoke in the tunnel. Beckwitt flipped a switch that turned off the lights in the tunnels, but turned the power back on, after Khafra said that he could not see, Wink said.

County officials sued Beckwitt on the property of the state, that it is unsafe and a public nuisance.” Beckwitt’s father, David, owner of the Bethesda property, but lives in Burke, Virginia, according to the wrongful death lawsuit.

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