Boy dies in pre-dawn apartment fire

Fire officials investigate cause of Cherry Hill blaze

March 05, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A 3-year-old boy died yesterday in a pre-dawn fire that neighbors said was caused by a candle, just hours before electricity was to be restored to the Cherry Hill apartment where he was living.

Baltimore fire officials are investigating the cause of the two-alarm blaze in the 550-unit Middle Branch Manor apartments, but neighbors said a burning candle started the fire about 4: 30 a.m.

Saevonne Lessington was found dead in his bed. No one else in the six affected apartments in the 2300 block of Terra Firma Road was seriously injured, fire department spokesman Michael Maybin said. Property damage is estimated at $75,000, Maybin said.

Power to Valerie Staley's top-floor apartment was scheduled to have been restored by 9 a.m. yesterday after being off for three days, said Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Michael Delaney. The bill, unpaid since Nov. 2, was paid Friday, he said.

Saevonne was staying with Staley, a relative. Staley's two children, Charles Jones, 14, and Lakeisha Jones, 12, escaped unharmed, said Donald G. Perry, Staley's father. Ruth Young, a spokeswoman for the Central Maryland chapter of the Red Cross, said 20 tenants were given food and shelter in hotels last night.

Neighbors said an unidentified man was also in the apartment at the time the fire broke out, but officials could not confirm that.

James Newby, 73, who lives in the second-floor apartment below Staley's, said he was awakened by the sounds of a fight between a man and woman in the unit above his. He looked out his rear window and saw Staley fall from her third-story apartment window to the ground, he said.

A few minutes later, said his son, Kenneth Newby, 42, Charles Jones knocked on the door.

"Mr. Kenny, my house is on fire and my cousin is still in there," Kenneth Newby recalled the youth saying. Kenneth Newby said he tried to go upstairs but was forced back by the heat and heavy smoke. "I could hear the child crying, but there was nothing I could do," he said.

He retreated, knocking on other doors to make sure everyone else escaped. By the time firefighters arrived, the flames had fully engulfed the top-floor apartment, Maybin said.

By dawn, the fire was out but the building's roof was gone, with interior wall studs left charred and exposed. Sopping piles of debris littered the grass outside. The Newbys were awaiting help to clean out their waterlogged apartment and move to another home.

City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who lives in Cherry Hill, lamented the tragedy as he visited the scene yesterday.

"This doesn't have to happen," he said. "If they let me know about their [BGE turnoff] notices, I can help, but I can't read people's minds," he said.

Perry said he took the two Jones children to his Northwest Baltimore home. They were very upset about the child's death, he said.

"They were crazy about Saevonne," Perry said.

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