By Sara Talbert

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON The Bell County District Courts building was evacuated around noon Friday because of a fire in an elevator shaft.

According to Roy Harmon, Belton fire chief, the fire started in the basement of the four-story building because of mechanical problems with one of the two elevators.

Evacuees fought waves of black smoke as they exited the building.

No injuries were reported.

Belton Fire Department and Emergency Services responded to the scene promptly, entering the building in full safety gear, including masks and air tanks.

According to Judge Martha Trudo, the District Courts building, which was built in the mid-1970s, has had previous problems with the elevators.

Weve had trouble, but have never had an evacuation before, Trudo said.

Trudo, of the 264th District Court, was presiding over the murder trial of Killeen resident Edmond Demond Waites at the time of the incident.

I saw my deputies passing messages and knew something was happening. I didnt know what, Trudo said. I released the jury for a break and then found out about the fire.

The building was then evacuated. Trudo said the jury and evidence were moved across the street to the Bell County Courthouse.

Were thankful nobody got hurt, Trudo said. I think my deputies did a great job evacuating the building.

A bond issue was defeated by county voters in May for the construction of a new jail and courthouse off Loop 121 Belton. It was the second time in less than a year that voters defeated a jail/courts bond issue.

If we could have passed the bond issue, the new building would almost be finished by now, County Judge Jon Burrows said.

The safety of our employees and the public is our greatest concern. The elevators are maintained and inspected regularly. Theyre just old.

According to Trudo, fire officials escorted personnel upstairs to retrieve any items needed for next weeks hearings.

We have plans set in place for next week, Trudo said. Were hoping to get into the building soon, but we want to make sure of no hazardous material or gases before were allowed back in.

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