Faulty air handler blamed for fire that destroyed business

No employees of Auto Trim Express were inside when the Brooksville blaze broke out.

Published May 25, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - Investigators say a malfunctioning air handler sparked a fire that swept quickly through a metal building in the Airport Industrial Park late Tuesday night and destroyed a Brooksville business that manufactured and distributed custom auto graphics.

According to Chief Mike Nickerson, Hernando County Fire Rescue firefighters arrived at the manufacturing headquarters of Auto Trim Express at 16110 Flight Path Drive shortly after 11 p.m. and found the metal building engulfed in flames. No one was inside the building at the time of the blaze.

Nickerson said that in order to gain access to the structure, crews were forced to cut several holes into the side of a steel door. One firefighter suffered a minor back strain and another was treated for heat exhaustion.

Sam Venzeio, crime analyst for the Fire Marshal's Office, said the structure was 50 percent destroyed by the blaze and that estimated damage to the building was in excess of $1-million. According to Hernando County tax records, the structure, which is owned and operated by the airport authority, has been leased to Auto Trim Express since 1993.

The company, which employs 19 people, is owned by Randall P. Marmet. Marmet could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The company is a manufacturer and wholesaler of adhesive-backed vinyl decals that are commonly found on custom sport vehicles, motorcycles and boats.

Dale Huenink, owner of Vinyl Graphics of Oostburg, Wis., a wholesale distributor auto graphics products, described Auto Trim Express as one of the largest auto graphics manufacturers in the United States. Huenink said he hoped to hear from the company's officials later this week.

Logan Neill can be reached at 352 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.