Owner made living torching salons for insurance

What desperate emotions flashed through firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh as the burning nail salon’s brick wall crashed down on them? Did they even have time for such emotions?

Flames shot through a nail salon that Thu Hong Nguyen set to steal a $40,000 insurance payout. The Kansas City, Mo. woman poured gallons of acetone and isopropyl alcohol into the stock room of her LN Nails and Spa. She lit the fire just before leaving work at 7 p.m. Nguyen was the last one out.

The fire needed just minutes to spread through the space between the first and second floors. It quickly grew into a three-alarm inferno battled by 110 firefighters. This was the largest fire Kansas City had seen in years.

People lived in 16 apartments above the Nguyen’s shop. Most escaped on their own, though some needed rescuing.

A commander then ordered 18 firefighters out of the structure, with the flames burning strong and the salon clearly a total loss.

Wall collapses with loud crack

Yet several firefighters stayed in the alley. Leggio was using a pike pole to pull a fan from a ground-floor window so Mesh could better hose the flames inside. Then a loud crack echoed out; the wall suddenly collapsed. Leggio’s body was crushed from head to toe and every organ was damaged. Two other firefighters were injured. Dan Werner had five leg fractures and surgery on his left ankle.

Missy Leggio was in the neighborhood. She saw the flames and knew her husband was fighting the blaze. She parked and walked over. Missy wanted to make eye contact with Larry to signal she loved him.

Instead she saw the wall collapse. A firefighter ran over to her and someone helped her into a car that sped to Truman Medical Center. “I remember screaming in the car, ‘Is my husband dead?’“ Missy said.

Burning salons: Nguyen’s living

Nguyen made her living burning down her nail salons for insurance money — five in all. Her modus: Buy a nail salon, usually in someone else’s name, and run it until a fire caused an insurance claim. Usually the claims were small enough that Nguyen likely wouldn’t spark an investigation, prosecutors said.

Nguyen lived off the insurance money for several months, then burned down another nail salon.

Nguyen earlier set fire to a shop in Lee’s Summit. No one was injured, and Nguyen received nearly $52,000 of insurance money.

A salon in Texas burned the same month her insurance policy expired. Yet another Texas salon flamed out after just four months. A salon in Grandview caught fire two days after Nguyen doubled her insurance. The average insurance payout was $46,000. She collected $268,000 over the years, for salons and other incidents.

Nguyen was convicted of the fires in Kansas City and Lee’s Summit, receiving 74 years in state prison.

More than 5,000 people attended a memorial service for Leggio and Mesh. The pair grew up in the neighborhood where they died. Leggio left his mourning wife and mother. Mesh never had a chance to say goodbye to his wife and four daughters.

“Our hearts are broken, but our resolve to honor these brave men is strong,” said Fire Chief Paul Berardi. “… I vow we will never forget.”