Child dies in blaze neighbors save others

March 02, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

The day after 16-month-old Derrell Lovett died in a Northeast Baltimore apartment fire, neighbors mourned the toddler, who, with his 3-year-old brother, had been left home unattended. But amid the sadness yesterday came a tale of heroism that may have prevented an even greater tragedy.

Samuel Thomas, a neighbor, said he was returning from the store Monday evening and saw thick smoke pouring from the Lovetts' ground-floor home in the Lorelly Apartments.

He ran into his home, dialed 911 and ran next door. There, he and another neighbor caught three children as they emerged from a third-floor window and plummeted toward the ground.

"I wanted to save lives, to save people," he said, displaying a huge bruise on his arm where the weight of one of the children hit.

"I took care of those three kids," said Mr. Thomas, still stunned by the fatal fire. "They could have broken a leg or their necks jumping out, but we took all the shocks for them."

The toddler's mother, Lisa Lovett, 25, was released yesterday from the Women's Detention Center on a $100,000 unsecured bond. She is charged with abandonment after police said she left the toddler and her 3-year-old son, Dwan, unattended in the ground floor garden apartment.

While the children were unsupervised, Dwan was playing with matches and the fire started at 6:50 p.m., Capt. Hector Torres said. The child ran next door seeking help, leaving the infant in a crib. Baby Derrell was the city's 26th fire fatality this year. "The mother returned and was standing by the door directing the firefighters to go in and get the baby," said Lt. Jim Bandelin, a city firefighter whose coworkers from Truck No. 26 on Mannasota Ave. responded to the blaze. "She told the firefighters the whereabouts of the crib."

Firefighter Allen Roberts injured his shoulder as he fell on the pavement while carrying the toddler's lifeless body from the apartment, Lieutenant Bandelin said.

The image of that tiny body will haunt the firefighters for months, he said.

"Any time a person passes or dies, it's upsetting to the men -- they feel like they could have done something else," Lieutenant Bandelin said. "A child is the hardest part. When an infant passes on, it affects all of the men. These guys care -- an infant in a crib has no shot of getting out."

Yesterday, a group of 10 somber firefighters passed out fire prevention leaflets in the area.

The aftermath of the tragedy has left De-Vona Gibson, 65, concerned about safety in the low-income, federally subsidized apartment complex, which is located on a dead-end street off Moravia Park Road.

Ms. Gibson, who has lived there for 17 years, said drug dealers frequent the area and crime has risen dramatically, forcing many residents to remain inside their apartments fearing for their safety.

She also criticized Ms. Lovett and the complex's other young mothers, whom she said she has seen often leave their children unattended.

"The young women on welfare, they put the kids out in the hall as soon as they can walk," Ms. Gibson said. "I see these little babies running around barefooted. They don't pay no attention to the kids."

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