Man arrested in death at Bethesda tunnel house

WASHINGTON – An arrest has been made in connection with the death of a man in a Bethesda, Maryland, house last year in which hazardous materials and a network of tunnels were found.

Daniel Beckwitt, 27, was arrested at about 6:30 p.m. Friday in Burke, Virginia, and charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, said Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.

Beckwitt is the son of David Beckwitt, the owner of the house in the 5000 block of Danbury Road, where Askia Khafra, 21, was found dead in a fire last Sept. 10. The cause of his death was listed as smoke inhalation and thermal injuries. Daniel Beckwitt, who neighbors said lived there, escaped the fire.

Starks said that the case had taken a long time in part because some of the evidence had been destroyed. “Tonight we believe we have brought this to a closure,” he said.

The police said after the fire that Khafra had been hired to dig tunnels under the house. It’s not known how deep or far-ranging the tunnels are, or what danger they may pose to the house or neighboring houses, because officials haven’t been allowed in the house. Chemicals and wiring were also found, fire officials have said.

The arrest comes a day after the Beckwitts responded to a civil complaint filed by the county in March, seeking injunctions to, among other things, “restore the property to a safe, buildable site;” “remove or remedy all dangerous conditions,” “remove and properly and safely dispose of all hazardous conditions or materials” and “remove all encroachments … from the right of way.”

In response, the Beckwitts said in court documents Thursday that they denied “that the residential building and tunnels are unsafe and/or require corrective action.” They also denied the county’s contention of hoarding conditions and its assertion that the “tunneling, excavations and cavities go into the public right-of-way, namely Danbury Road, and likely go beyond at least one property line.”

Beckwitt is in custody in Fairfax County, awaiting extradition to Montgomery County.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer and Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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