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Foul play suspected in fire

A body found at a burned-out print shop on Table Rock Road has raised the specter of foul play among investigators as well as family and friends of the printer who lived at the shop.

"This is a suspicious death," Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said.

Authorities are looking for a gray 1997 Plymouth van that belonged to the printer, but was missing from the scene. The license plate number is 352 CYV. Anyone who sees the van shouldn't approach it, but should call 9-1-1 to notify police, sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said.

A driver on Table Rock Road reported a structure fire at 6608 Table Rock Road at 7:17 a.m. Monday, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Battalion Chief Greg Winfrey said.

Firefighters arrived seven minutes later to find flames engulfing about half of the metal building, he said. They quickly knocked back the flames. As firefighters conducted a routine search through the scorched rubble, they discovered a burned body in the living quarters at the rear of the shop.

The county medical examiner hasn't identified the deceased person yet, but has reported that the death wasn't accidental, Fagan said.

The Jackson County Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit is working the case, along with a team of fire investigators from District 3, Medford, and the state fire marshal's office.

Frank Johansen, of Talent, waited anxiously for details in the cold gray morning outside the scorched shop where his brother, Roger Johansen, 49, lived and worked.

He said his brother's ex-girlfriend had called to tell him of the fire.

"I saw the smoke when I got here," Frank Johansen said, clutching a paper coffee cup in trembling hands.

He was worried, however, that he didn't see his brother's van, a vehicle, he said, Roger never lent out.

"There were these people who claimed he owed them money," Frank Johansen said. "He was afraid of these people, afraid to go to sleep at night."

He also said that his brother, who had carried on a family business with offset presses inherited from their father, had always worried about fire in a business filled with stacks of paper and chemicals. A previous owner of the shop space Roger Johansen leased had installed a fire-sprinkler system, Frank Johansen said.

Leaping flames at the print shop attracted the attention of neighbor Brett Chancler Monday morning.

He ran to the burning shop, banging at doors and shouting through a vent to see if he could roust Roger Johansen.

"It was pretty much engulfed," Chancler said. "He was probably already gone it was so smoky."

Chancler said he tried to lift a garage door at the front of the shop, but it was locked and hot to his touch. He kicked the door and heard an explosion inside that blew out the windows.

"It was just boiling out smoke," he said. "I got on my hands and knees and it took my breath."

District 3 sent three fire engines and a water tanker to the fire.

As crews from the first two engines battled the smoldering fire, Captain Mike Calhoun and firefighter Will Clelland began a routine search through the fallen debris of a collapsed roof.

"It was smoke-filled and steam was everywhere," Calhoun said. "Seeing was difficult."

On the second check through the rubble, they found the badly burned body in the living quarters at the back of the shop.

Calhoun noted that the department had responded to a trailer fire behind the shop a few years ago, so firefighters remembered a small bedroom and kitchenette in the back corner of the shop.

Armand Fontaine, a friend of Frank Johansen, recalled staying with Roger about two years ago as he got his life together.

"I'm glad he let me do that, and I'm glad I wasn't still living there," he said.

He said Roger Johansen's home was filled with drums, speaker cabinets and a new mixing board, as he loved to make music.

Frank Johansen said his brother earned a good living with his printing business, Budget X-Press. Jackson County Circuit Court records show Roger Johansen had an extensive court record, including assault, burglary and numerous meth-related drug crimes, as well as many civil complaints.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Investigators from Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and the state fire marshal’s office spent all day Monday looking for evidence in the fatal fire at a print shop on Table Rock Road. - Jim Craven