Arundel house fire claims 4 lives

2 children were visiting their great-grandparents

Cause believed accidental

April 14, 2004|By Rona Kobell and Jason Song | Rona Kobell and Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Two young children and the great-grandparents they were visiting died yesterday morning in a three-alarm fire that tore through a home in the close-knit Brooklyn Park neighborhood of Anne Arundel County.

Several Morris Hill residents were returning from a neighbor's funeral when they saw the burnt-out shell of a house in the 100 block of Cherry Lane. Soon, fire officials confirmed the worst - that 84-year-old Wilmond Tucker, his 75-year-old wife, Hannah, and their two great-grandchildren, Brock Jr., 8, and Braxton, 6, had died.

Fire Department spokesman John Scholz said neighbors told firefighters that the children lived in North Carolina and had been visiting over their spring break. The neighborhood sits near the Baltimore City line.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Wednesday's editions identified the Morris Hill neighborhood in Anne Arundel County as part of Brooklyn Park. While Brooklyn Park's fire department is the closest to the scene, the neighborhood is actually in the Glen Burnie ZIP code. The Sun regrets the error.

Neighbors called 911 about 10:40 a.m., after Rene Newman spotted smoke outside. She said she was concerned because, just a few minutes earlier, her daughter came home and said a little boy was playing on the Tuckers' lawn.

Newman's 20-year-old son, Allen, ran outside, saw the Tuckers' porch on fire, and tried to go inside.

"It all happened so fast," she said. "Once my son opened the door to the house, the gutters were so heated that they just fell off and rolled down his back."

Firefighters arrived a few minutes later. "We had to knock the fire down before we could get inside," said Anne Arundel Fire Capt. Lee Cornwell.

They found the first victim at 10:56 a.m. and the others several minutes later. Wilmond Tucker was in the basement with one child, and Hannah Tucker was on the first floor with another.

"That was very fast, considering they had to fight the fire in the structure," Scholz said.

All of the victims were in cardiac arrest and weren't breathing when they were found, Scholz said. Paramedics took the adults to Harbor Hospital in Baltimore and the children to North Arundel Hospital. All four were pronounced dead at the hospitals by noon.

Three firefighters were treated at local hospitals for heat exhaustion and released.

The fire started on the front porch and caused about $65,000 in damage to the home, fire officials said. The cause had not been determined, but Scholz said it is believed to be accidental.

The Tuckers' home did not have smoke alarms, fire officials said. The blaze was brought under control within an hour.

The home is close to the scene of another fatal fire that occurred late last month. Fire Department officials agreed that their response to the earlier fire was delayed because of staffing cuts, but Scholz said that was not an issue in yesterday's fire.

Several neighbors said they were surprised to see children at the Tucker home in recent days. Hannah Tucker used a wheelchair, had numerous health problems and rarely left the house; her husband, once active in the neighborhood association, didn't come out much except to collect his mail.

"We had no knowledge that two kids were in there with two older people," said Nasie Dukes, who lives two doors from the Tucker home. "They were disabled. They couldn't take care of kids."

Family members gathered yesterday at the Woodlawn home of one relative, Wilmond Tucker Jr., who said they were not ready to talk about the tragedy. Other family members who gathered at a relative's home in Morris Hill, a community within Brooklyn Park, also declined to talk. Fire officials said the boys' father came to the scene, but would only speak through an intermediary.

Neighbor Delia Harris, whose husband had worked with Tucker at Bethlehem Steel before both men retired from the Sparrows Point plant, said Tucker took great care of his home when she first moved in about 25 years ago. He tended a garden, and was active in the Cedar-Morris Hill Improvement Association. But in recent years, his home had fallen into disrepair, and he was too ill to do much about it.

"He'd been sick a long time, and his wife was, too," she said. "He hasn't been able to do anything."

When Harris saw the small children playing on the porch this week, she worried.

"I was wondering, but I didn't say anything," she said. "But they shouldn't have been in that house by themselves, with him being sick, too."

Because of his health, Newman said, Tucker wasn't able to clean up his porch, which she and other neighbors said was littered with garbage, clothing and other debris. She had called neighborhood association President Carl Brooks about the problem. But Brooks said he hadn't spoken to the Tuckers about the debris.

"They were up in years. When I see people with problems, I'm not too quick to come down on them," Brooks said.

Brooks had just returned home yesterday morning from burying his cousin, Jasper Hines, who died of cancer. Many neighbors, including Newman's father, raced back from the funeral when they heard about the fire. Morris Hill is a tight-knit, largely African-American enclave where many residents are related. Brooks can trace his Morris Hill roots to the early 1600s.

"It is a shock," Brooks said of the fire. "It's just a tragedy."

Sun staff writers Julie Bykowicz, Childs Walker, Ryan Davis and Laura Loh contributed to this article.

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