Elderly couple killed in house fire Cause undetermined

early-morning blaze began in bedroom

November 05, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

An elderly Crownsville couple died early yesterday in a one-alarm fire that consumed their small frame house in the 900 block of Waterbury Heights Road.

Louise and Levi Russell, 83 and 79, were pronounced dead at the scene. They were the fourth and fifth county residents killed in fires this year.

County fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze, which began in an enclosed porch at the front of the house that had been turned into a bedroom.

Fire officials said the house was a total loss, but they had no damage estimates.

Neighbors said they were saddened by the deaths of the couple, who had lived in the house for at least two decades. They said that by the time anyone knew of the fire, it was too late to help.

"We could smell the smoke in the house," said Martha Tyler, who lives across the street from the Russell home. "My daughter opened the curtains and saw the flames. They were as high as the trees. There was nothing nobody could do to get them out."

County EMS/Fire/Rescue spokesman Capt. Allan Graves said firefighters received the call about 4 a.m. By the time the first firefighters arrived moments later, the house was engulfed in flames. Tyler and her daughter told firefighters that an elderly couple were in the house.

When firefighters got inside, they found Levi Russell's body in a chair in his bedroom, where the fire began. His wife's body was near a window in the kitchen at the rear of the house. She apparently was trying to climb out the window when she was overcome, fire officials said.

There were no smoke detectors in the one-story house.

"You can only speculate as to whether it would have helped in this case, but in general, smoke detectors give you an early warning while the fire is small and give you time to escape," Graves said. It took firefighters about an hour to extinguish the blaze, he said.

Neighbors said the couple, known as Russell and Ms. Louise, were friendly and kind.

Mrs. Russell was to have joined a senior citizens group for

TC weekly sewing class yesterday, a neighbor said.

A lifelong Annapolis area resident, she attended Mount Tabor United Methodist Church in Crownsville and enjoyed reading the Bible and watching television.

The retired domestic worker celebrated her birthday a week ago with her husband and Ella Queen, a neighbor who cared for the couple and helped them with daily tasks. Queen made them a seafood dinner, cake and sweet potato pie. Mr. Russell would have turned 80 Saturday.

Queen said she took the couple to the grocery store Monday and spoke with Mrs. Russell on Monday evening. She was planning to visit again yesterday, she said.

"I just didn't believe it when my son woke me up and told me," she said. "I'd come down here every day. If I didn't come, I'd call to make sure they were OK."

Mr. Russell customarily walked a quarter-mile to a convenience store at Sunrise Beach Road and Old Generals Highway, following the pipeline that runs through the neighborhood. He bought cat food each day for the two stray cats that stayed behind his house, employees at the store said.

"Russell would walk up to the WaWa every day, and we'd see him," said Toika Mackell, a neighbor. "He was like a grandfather for all of us."

Mr. Russell, who was born in Oklahoma, settled in the Annapolis area and opened a television repair shop after serving in the Navy, neighbors and relatives said.

It was unclear how long he was in the Navy, but friends said he often talked about his travels abroad.

None of them knew when the couple married, but they said the Russells had been married for decades and didn't have children.

Mrs. Russell had several brothers and sisters, and nieces and nephews, many of whom live in the county. Mr. Russell's brothers and sisters remain in Oklahoma, said a nephew who sorted through the couple's belongings yesterday trying to find telephone numbers or addresses for Mr. Russell's relatives.

Senior citizens who live in Anne Arundel and need smoke detectors in their homes can call the Anne Arundel County EMS/Fire/Rescue at 410-222-8200 for free installation.

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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