Probe of fatal fire continues

July 06, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

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    HAGERSTOWN - Fire officials Monday afternoon continued their investigation into what caused a morning fire that killed a 32-year-old man.

    The occupant of an upper floor, fire-damaged apartment at 1922 Dual Highway was pronounced dead at the scene Monday morning, authorities said.

    Officials declined to release the man's name Monday.

    The victim's name will probably be released today, along with the results of an autopsy, Deputy State Fire Marshal Joseph Zurolo said Monday evening.


Joseph Leggett lives in the downstairs apartment with Mary Cunningham in the stone-front home, set back behind an expanse of front yard off Dual Highway.

Leggett was in Rockville, Md., Monday morning when his brother, Willis Leggett Jr., called to tell him his house was on fire. Willis Leggett Jr. broke out a window and with the assistance of firefighters, retrieved the couple's two dwarf Pomeranians.

The two dogs, Shadow and Seairra, were in Cunningham's niece's minivan parked outside the house Monday morning. Leggett and Cunningham were unsure when they would be allowed back in their home.

John Snyder reported the fire at about 7:40 a.m.

Snyder was at the property, which is owned by his parents, to retrieve some materials he needed to do some plumbing work.

Firefighters tried to rescue the occupant of the upper apartment, but after the man was removed from the home, he was pronounced dead at the scene, said Jason Mowbray, a deputy chief state fire marshal.

No one else was home at the time of the fire.

The fire was contained to the second floor, although other areas of the building were damaged by heat and smoke, Mowbray said.

Before firefighters arrived, Snyder broke down a side door. He yelled and whistled as loud as he could, trying to get the tenant's attention, he said.

He put his shirt over his face and tried to make his way up the steps, but smoke came down from the ceiling as far as his waist, he said.

The 911 operator told him not to go into the home, so he ran to the road to flag down firefighters, Snyder said.

Snyder said he thought the man lived in the upper apartment for about four years.

"He was not a social person, not at all," Leggett said.

He only spoke with his now-deceased neighbor a few times, Leggett said.

The man worked with her sister at a Domino's Pizza in Frederick, Md., Cunningham said. He found out about the available apartment years ago through her sister, Cunningham said.

"He was a loner. Nobody came by," she said.

But he wasn't a noisy or problematic neighbor, Cunningham said.

Firefighters spent Monday morning shoveling trash outside the upper apartment.

They used pitchforks and shovels to toss trash, including empty plastic Diet Coke bottles, rum bottles and Tostitos bags, out of an upper window. The trash fell in a giant heap below.

Firefighters said the trash was piled 3 or 4 feet high throughout the apartment.

A smoke alarm was found in the apartment where the man died, but its battery had been removed, the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office said in a news release.

State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard urged residents to make sure their smoke alarms are working.

"Working smoke alarms are crucial to surviving a home fire. If fire strikes, your chance of survival is extremely low, especially when smoke alarms have been disabled," he said.

The Maryland State Police Criminal Investigation Division was assisting fire officials, which is standard protocol for fires involving deaths.

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