Mother, two sons die in Northwest Baltimore blaze Lives could have been saved by smoke detector, officials say

April 11, 1991|By Roger Twigg

A woman and her two baby boys were killed yesterday in a smoky, two-alarm fire that spread through their Northwest Baltimore apartment as they slept. Investigators said that the fire had probably been started by careless smoking and that a smoke detector could have saved the three lives.

"It was an everyday fire as far as damage was concerned," said Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman. "But, there was no smoke detector. Had there been a smoke detector I don't believe anyone would have died."

Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Community Development, said that an inspection of the apartment building a year ago showed that permanent electronic smoke detectors had been installed.

But, he said, someone had apparently removed the smoke detector from its bracket in the first-floor apartment where the blaze originated. Mr. Toohey said the owner of the building, Robert S. Rody, was in complete compliance with housing regulations.

The housing spokesman said that residents of apartment buildings often remove smoke detectors because heat or smoke from stoves can cause them to go off.

Three other residents of the six-unit, three-story apartment building in the 2300 block of Ocala Avenue, off Reisterstown Road, were injured in the blaze -- including a woman who was hurt after she tossed her daughter to safety from a second-story window and then jumped to the ground herself.

A third son of the victim is in critical condition at University Hospital.

Investigators said the fire started sometime before 3 a.m. when a sofa in the apartment of Ramona Collins caught fire, probably from a cigarette that was dropped when Ms. Collins fell asleep.

When firefighters forced their way into the apartment they found Collins' body in the hallway of her first-floor apartment. The TTC bodies of two of her sons were found in a rear bedroom: Martineze Jerome King, 6 months old, was in his crib. His brother, Malcolm King Jr., 18 months old, was on the floor next to his bed.

The third son, 11-year-old Quincy Collins, was found on the bed in complete cardiac arrest, Captain Flynn said. He was revived by paramedics and was reported in critical condition last night at University Hospital, a spokeswoman said.

Another resident, Bernadette Scudder, 35, who had just moved into a second-floor apartment above the fire about a week ago was forced to jump to safety from the rear of the building, fire officials said.

They said just before jumping she dropped her 8-year-old daughter, Quandra Harris, to the arms of a first-floor tenant, Karen Davidson. Although Ms. Davidson managed to break the youngster's fall, the girl suffered facial injuries.

The mother and daughter were treated at area hospitals and released, officials said.

One resident of the building, Doretha L. Ragland, 27, said she had fallen asleep on the sofa of her second-floor apartment while watching television.

Just before 3 a.m. Ms. Ragland said she was awakened by the smell of smoke, immediately checked her stove, and then telephoned the Fire Department.

"I told them that something in the building was burning and I don't know where it's coming from," she said. Ms. Ragland said she grabbed her two children, Donte, 7, and Keyonna, 4, and started running down the steps yelling that the building was on fire. When she reached the Collins' apartment she said flames and smoke were pouring from the top of the door.

Within minutes people were screaming and yelling and residents from adjacent buildings climbed fire escapes to help people escape the blaze.

Cynthia D. Goode was in a third-floor apartment tending to her sister's children when she noticed the fire.

Almost at the same time, Ms. Goode said her sister kicked in the door and helped her and the children out of the rear of the building.

Captain Flynn said 11 people have been killed in fires in Baltimore this year -- six of them because of careless smoking.

Last year, when the city recorded the fewest fire deaths in history, 20 of the 29 deaths were the result of careless smoking, he said.

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