June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Fire kills 7-year-old

MEDINA — Police tried to climb the stairs to reach Tashawn Okoye in
his second-floor bedroom early Monday morning, but the flames were too intense.

Sometime amid the chaos of flames and smoke, Jennifer Okoye, 31, the mother of the five children inside the apartment, jumped out a window holding her 4-year-old son. She then caught her 10-year-old daughter, who also jumped out the window, said a family member, who asked not to be named. Two other children, ages 5 and 11, also escaped.

Tashawn, 7, died from his injuries.

a1mg_clr5colfire3am-copyMonday’s fire at 223 W. Smith Road, Medina, remains under investigation. (Audrey McCrone / Gazette)

Two minutes after an unidentified person placed a 911 call around 12:10 a.m., Medina police arrived, Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said.

They tried repeatedly to get up the stairs, “but there was too much fire,” he said.

Sgt. Nathan Simpson called for a ladder truck to reach Tashawn, but before one arrived, a neighbor brought his ladder over to 223 W. Smith Road, Berarducci said, and Simpson broke open the window.

All the sergeant could see through the smoke was the headboard of Tashawn’s bed, so he felt his way around in the boy’s bedroom to find him, Berarducci said.

Simpson handed Tashawn to a neighbor on the ladder, who handed him over to the Medina Life Support Team, the chief said.

Simpson, who needed help getting out of the house, was transported along with Tashawn to Medina Hospital, Berarducci said. Simpson’s cuts on his arms and hands required stitches, and he was treated for second-degree burns and smoke inhalation, he said.

Jennifer Okoye’s 4-year-old son probably was playing with matches in the middle of the night, Berarducci said. The boy apparently got scared and threw the lit match into a closet on the second floor of the apartment, and the clothes inside caught fire, he said.

“We’re thinking this was not an intentional act,” Berarducci said.
The 4-year-old then apparently woke his 11-year-old brother, who then gently dropped another brother, 5, out the window onto a bush, the family member said. The 11-year-old then jumped out, too.

The family was found sitting in a car by officers and rescuers, at Paul’s Pub & Sub, 232 W. Smith Road, across the street, Berarducci said, and taken to the hospital where they were treated for smoke inhalation and interviewed by police.

Medina County Coroner Neil Grabenstetter said Tashawn had noticeable burn injuries when he first saw him at the hospital shortly after 1:10 a.m. Fatal fire victims are usually overcome by the smoke first, he said.

Berarducci said there were no smoke detectors in the apartment, but there was a smoke detector in the first-floor apartment. He said he was not sure if it was working at the time of the fire.

Fire Marshal Mark Crumley said firefighters from Medina city and Medina Township responded with eight engines. He said it took 45 minutes to an hour to put out the fire, which was fully involved when the first engine arrived at 12:23 a.m.

Okoye’s purse was lost in the fire, along with her car keys, Berarducci said, so Medina Auto Mall, 3205 Medina Road, sent over a technician, Andrew Girard, to reprogram a key to work with her car’s ignition for free.

The family member said the American Red Cross sent Okoye gift cards, which she called a blessing.

The Medina Bees Youth Football League, for which Tashawn played as part of the Wildcats team, is taking clothing donations for the family, league president Mike Butts said.

Several of the children attend Garfield Elementary School, the family member said.

“Our deepest sympathy goes to the family,” Berarducci said, calling the fire very tragic. He said “working smoke detectors are the best way to prevent tragedy, and to get good working batteries.

“I’m very proud of all the officers who went in there last night,” Berarducci said. “They all took it very hard.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Contact Audrey McCrone at (330) 721-4063 or amccrone@ohio.net.