Authorities probe fatal fire

Identification pending autopsy results
Feb. 28, 2014 @ 11:30 AM

Authorities are investigating allegations that an apparent boarding house in which a person died during a fire did not have smoke alarms or fully functioning fire extinguishers.

One person died and another was hospitalized following the fire at 12 Cox Ave. early Thursday morning.

According to Tony Campbell, a resident of the house, the fire started at the two-story home at about 2:45 a.m. Thursday. Campbell said eight of the nine people living at the address escaped, but a resident on the second floor died in the blaze.

Thomasville police Detective Chet Jarrell said the victim’s body was sent to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill for an autopsy and identification. Jarrell said the fire is believed to have started in the victim’s bedroom.

“Normal identification is not possible,” Jarrell said. “The determination of the fire, the cause, is unknown. There is a bedroom in the far back right corner of the house, and that’s where the victim was located and is where the fire started. As far as what started it, unless something else comes up, it’s going to be unable to be determined. We don’t know.”

Jarrell said Thomasville police and the State Bureau of Investigation are investigating allegations from residents of the home concerning lack of fire safety measures. He said investigators will present the findings to the district attorney, who will determine if any charges should be filed against the residence owner.

Campbell, who lived on the second floor, said he woke up about 2:40 a.m. and smelled smoke. He also noticed smoke coming out of the ventilators in his room and went to the bathroom.

“Smoke was coming out of the side windows in the bathroom and the wall was very hot,” Campbell said. “I came out of the bathroom and knocked on the room next door and started to try to get everybody out.”

Campbell said he began yelling the victim’s name while talking on the phone to 911, but got no response.

“I put the phone in my pocket, and I could hear [the 911 dispatcher], but I was trying to get in and save [the victim],” Campbell said.

As Campbell attempted to rescue the victim, who also lived on the second floor, Jessie Taylor managed to get the other residents safely out of the building.

“I thought it was a small fire, but it wasn’t,” Taylor said. “I ran and got the fire extinguishers and ran toward the fire where Tony was. We come to find out the fire extinguisher, it was no good, it was empty. There were no smoke detectors.”

Campbell had a hold of the victim’s leg, but Taylor said that once the door opened, the flames intensified.

“The flames were too great for us,” Taylor said. “It was spreading too much.”

The Thomasville Fire Department arrived at the scene as Taylor and Campbell fled the home. Another resident was transported to Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center with undisclosed injuries.

“After I went downstairs, after everyone was out, me and (the police were) kicking the door in,” Campbell said. “I didn’t get an answer, so I kicked the door all the way in. I managed to get (a resident) out of the house and save him.”

Taylor credits the other residents for helping avoid additional loss of life.

“We pulled as a team,” Taylor said. “We might argue, fuss and fight, but we came together and helped save each other.”

The residence is made up of seven rooms. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Thomasville police and the State Bureau of Investigation on Thursday morning were waiting on a search warrant, which is standard procedure when a fatality is involved.

duke@tvilletimes.com | 888-3578