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Alcohol might have played part in teens' fire deaths

February 02, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

erinc@herald-mail.com

Investigators said Wednesday that alcohol consumption might have prevented a Boonsboro High School graduate and two seniors from escaping a burning home in December 2005.

Maryland Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Allen Gosnell said the three friends had been drinking before a fire broke out in the Keedysville home where they were spending the night Dec. 11.

Michael Abell and Jonathan Barnes, both 17, and Brian Daigle, 18, died in the fire.

There were no working smoke detectors on the second floor of the home at 22 Mount Hebron Road, according to the fire marshal's office. The boys were sleeping in a bedroom on the upper level.

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Investigators said in December that the fire was caused by careless smoking, and that the boys died from smoke inhalation and burns.

Gosnell said the boys were drinking for several hours, but he was not sure when they had stopped. The fire was reported at 5:15 a.m.

The boys' blood-alcohol levels were not being released, and Gosnell would not say if the two boys who escaped the fire, Max Hope, 17, and a 15-year-old, had been drinking.

Max's father, Maxwell B. Hope Jr., 54, was at home at the time of the fire, according to published reports.

Gosnell said investigators determined from witness statements and doctors' reports that the boys had been drinking.

"They may not have been able to help themselves out of the room," he said.

Officials believe the boys were drinking vodka, and Gosnell said investigators are trying to determine where they got the alcohol.

"Seventeen-and 18-year-olds can't buy vodka," he said.

The alcohol was brought into the house, and was unopened before that night, Gosnell said. If someone provided the alcohol for the boys, or if a store owner sold alcohol to the minors, the State Fire Marshal's Office will be working with the Washington County Office of the State's Attorney to press charges, he said.

"If anyone has broken laws, we're going to pursue that," Gosnell said. "This is a tragedy, and we're hoping to send a message to other teens and parents."

Michael Weller, life safety educator for Hagerstown Fire Department, said alcohol can impair judgment. People should not smoke while drinking in their homes, and should avoid drinking alcohol while cooking, he said.

"It sets the situation up for tragedy," he said.

The lack of a working smoke alarm on the second floor was another factor in the fire. There was a smoke alarm in the stairwell, but fire officials were unsure in December whether it was functioning. That smoke detector would not have detected smoke on an upper level, fire officials said.

Weller said there should have been a smoke detector upstairs and outside the room where the fire broke out. Teenagers might want to have smoke detectors inside their rooms, also, if they sleep with the door closed, he said.

Anyone who would like information about smoke detectors or would like one installed in their home, may call Weller at 301-790-2476.

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