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And Yet Another Senseless Tragedy

 Just as I am beginning to recover from the shock of the murder of Angie Farthing, my fellow Industrial Commission employee, we are hit with yet another tragedy in our orbit.  I came to work yesterday morning, and when I took my 10:00-10:15 break, enjoying my fourth can of Diet Coke since the workday began, my co-worker Pam Taylor came into the breakroom and said, "Did you hear about the fire on Wisconsin Avenue?"  Wisconsin Avenue is just on the other side of West Broad Street from our section of Franklinton, and maybe a half mile--if that--from our half-double.

I told her no.  I was too soundly asleep in the early morning (out of character for me) to have heard any of the fire engines, and I hadn't looked at the news before I left.  All Pam told me was that it was a big fire, and several people had died.  (Pam's ex-mother-in-law lives in the Franklinton area.)

I didn't realize just how close to home this hit until after work.  I was standing in line at a check-cashing joint, waiting to pay the electric bill, when Steph called me on my cell phone.  She was in tears, because one of the victims was 19-year-old Mindy, whom Steph knew from the "Becoming Women" (both an adjective and a gerund!) group she ran at Gladden Community House, the settlement house where Steph used to work.  Mindy and her three children--the youngest just two weeks old--perished from smoke inhalation and the fire.

The fire happened because Columbia Gas had turned off their heat for non-payment.  It's been a cold autumn, and Mindy had a new baby, but that didn't make any never-mind.  To keep warm, they had space heaters in the bedroom, and that was what caused the fire.

One of the people who survived was Mindy's 10-year-old sister Maggie, who is a friend of Susie's.  When they lived across the street from us, Maggie was a frequent playmate of Susie's, and often came over for dinner.  The Red Cross has housed the surviving family members in a motel for the present.

FOUR KILLED IN FIRE
‘She loved her babies’
Mother, 19, and her three young children die when electrical fire engulfs Franklinton home
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Theodore Decker
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
ERIC ALBRECHT
A Red Cross worker keeps the rain off a survivor of a fatal fire in Franklinton. A fire battalion chief said an overheated extension cord caused the blaze.

For those who made it out alive, the first warnings came as a whiff of smoke and a newborn’s cry.

In the minutes that followed, the survivors said yesterday, there were calls for help, pounding on the floor above, and smoke that rolled through the Franklinton house from front to back in the pre-dawn.

And behind the closed door of the front upstairs bedroom, where the trapped young mother died with her three children, there was the heat, driven by a fire so intense that witnesses likened it to a blowtorch.

Later, Paul S. Sadler stood in the rain at the corner of Wisconsin and Cable avenues. He gestured to the people around him, clutching coffees and one another and huddled under American Red Cross blankets.

"This is all my family," he said. "Until today, I had eight kids and 16 grandchildren. I just lost four."

The 5:32 a.m. fire at 115 Wisconsin Ave. claimed the lives of Sadler’s 19-year-old daughter, Mindy Hanners. Also killed were her three children: Katelynn Hanners, 4; Austin Hanners, 1, and Nevaeh Hanners, whose name is "Heaven" spelled backward and who would have turned 2 weeks old today.

All died in the roughly 12-by-14-foot bedroom they shared. Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith said Mindy Hanners was found on the floor between a bed and a front window. The children were still in their beds, he said.

Autopsies were begun yesterday and will continue this weekend.

Six other residents escaped. They are Sadler; his wife, Kathy Hanners; a grandchild, 10-year-old Margaret Sadler; Mindy Hanners’ brothers, Justin Sadler, 16, and Josh Sadler, 17; and Vicki Crocker, a family friend that the boys know as "Aunt Vicki."

The fire was an accident. Smith said an overheated extension cord leading to an electric space heater inside Mindy Hanners’ bedroom was to blame. The cord ran out of the room and down the stairs to an outlet in the living room.

The age of the houses in Franklinton, central Ohio’s original settlement, has made the neighborhood prone to deadly fires.

"A lot of the houses are more than 100 years old," Smith said. "The wiring is old and there aren’t fire stops in the walls, so fires spread quickly."

Firefighters found one smoke detector in the basement, but the battery was dead.

Dana Rose, city code-enforcement manager, said landlords must install detectors on every occupied level of a structure. The tenants must maintain them.

The Sadler-Hanners family rented the home at 115 Wisconsin Ave. A message left for the owner, listed in Franklin County auditor’s records as Joseph Alaura, 42, of Cardington, was not returned yesterday. The two-story, 1,490-square-foot home was built in 1902, records show.

It was Kathy Hanners who awoke about 5:20 a.m. and roused her husband.

"My wife said she thought she heard the baby cry," Sadler, 50, said.

The couple smelled smoke in their first-floor bedroom. Then they heard banging on the ceiling and calls for help, relative Ashley Bibb said she was told.

"It was Mindy screaming, ‘Help me, Mom, I can’t get ’em out!’ " Bibb said.

"I went into the living room, and I seen the smoke on the stairway," Sadler said.

Others in the house awoke. Justin Sadler said Crocker had opened her own second-floor bedroom door to a wall of smoke and crawled to safety.

Justin was asleep in a secondfloor back bedroom when his fan began blowing smoke in his face.

"I couldn’t breathe," he said. He said he ran out onto the front porch, then darted inside again to wake Margaret in her first-floor rear bedroom.

His father was upstairs, trying to break down Mindy’s door.

"Me and my son were both trying and it wouldn’t budge," Sadler said. "I couldn’t help my babies.

"The fire was too much."

The first fire crews to arrive went straight for Mindy’s bedroom. Firefighters Keith Graney and Chris Kennedy were hurt trying to get inside the room.

"The superheated air came out and got them," Smith said.

Both men were taken to Ohio State University Medical Center. Kennedy was treated for firstdegree burns to his face and released. Graney was being treated for second-degree burns to his back and neck.

Neighbors Brian Church and Shaunda Tibulski heard the screams and saw firefighters on the porch roof break out one of the bedroom windows.

"It looked like somebody was on the inside with a blowtorch," Church said.

Relatives said Mindy Hanners was a devoted young mother who tried to provide for the children always at her side. Wendy Adkins said the family had gone Thursday to have Nevaeh’s photos taken at Meijer.

"She was a great mom," said Tibulski, whose sister has a baby with Josh Sadler. She said Mindy Hanners had just stopped by to show off Nevaeh.

"The only thing she was short of was money and a father, a father figure for the kids," Church, 22, said. "Other than that, she was good to go."

Birth records show that Harry Gillespie is the father of Austin and Nevaeh Hanners. Katelynn’s father is not listed in records, but the Sadler brothers said Gillespie fathered all three.

He lived with Hanners and the children but wasn’t home when the fire broke out. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Paul Sadler said his family did not have their gas heat turned on when they moved in this June because it was summer and their appliances didn’t require gas. He said he asked his wife Thursday night to remind him to start service before colder weather arrived.

Sadler said he always made sure to turn off the space heaters downstairs before he went to bed.

"I don’t like those things, and I would never leave them on."

If he’d known the upstairs heater was still on, he would have gone up to turn it off.

"My daughter and her babies would still be here," he said.

"She loved her babies with all her heart," he said. "They loved each other."

Dispatch reporter John Futty contributed to this story.

tdecker@dispatch.com 

I'm getting to the point where I'm scared to pick up a newspaper or switch on the news, because it seems that when I do, a tragedy is hitting close to home.  "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls," said John Donne, "it tolls for thee."

In a Star Trek episode called "The Immunity Syndrome," Dr. McCoy said to Spock, "'Suffer the deaths of thy neighbors?'  You wouldn't wish that on us, would you?"  Spock replied, "It would have rendered your history a little less bloody."

True, true.




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