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2012-10-25

Lakehills blaze claims life of victim

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Capt. Shane Merritt of the Bandera County Sheriff's Office has reported that a fatality had occurred during a house fire in Lakehills the morning of Sunday, Oct. 21.
The blaze, which came in to emergency dispatch at 6:40 am, was apparently tied to an incident that had begun at 12:32 am.
At that time, a disturbance was reported between a mother and daughter at a home on 18th Street in Lakehills. By the time law enforcement officers learned about the incident, the 15-year-old daughter had left the 18th Street residence for an address on Deer Trail.
Deputy Earl Heidelberg spoke with the daughter at the Deer Trail address, according to a BCSO press release. During the interview, the girl said she had come home to the 18th Street address earlier to find her mother "acting strangely." The 54-year-old woman had apparently boarded up the windows and was talking to herself.
The girl told Heidelberg that her mother had been behaving strangely for the past four days. Along with stating people were attempting to kill her, the woman said they "were going to burn the house down." Although her mother had not threatened suicide, the girl expressed concern about her mother's erratic behavior.
Additionally, the mother had apparently attempted to prevent her daughter from leaving the residence, the report noted. The girl successfully arranged for a friend to pick her up, but when a friend arrived at the 18th Street address, the girl's mother apparently damaged the friend's vehicle.
"Neither the daughter nor her friend wanted to pursue criminal charges," Merritt said.
After interviewing the daughter, Heidelberg proceeded to the 18th Street address, but the woman refused to open the door and speak with him. When he offered to call an EMS unit, she refused medical attention, saying she was "fine" and "didn't have any further problems." Heidelberg examined the exterior of the residence, but failed to find anything out of order. He attempted to engage the woman once again, but she repeatedly refused to open the door.
"With no authority to force his way into the residence, Deputy Heidelberg left the residence and returned to the Deer Trail address where he advised the daughter of his findings," Merritt said. "She told Deputy Heidelberg she would check on her mother in the morning." The girl then spent the night with a close family friend, Merritt reported.
According to Fire Marshal John Stith, at 6:40 am that morning, emergency dispatch received a report of a fire at the residence on 18th Street. "A neighbor saw smoke coming from the structure and called the fire in," Stith said.
Members of the Lakehills Volunteer Fire Department, along with Stith, BCSO deputies and EMS first responders rushed to the scene. After entering the residence, firefighters discovered the woman collapsed on the floor just inside an exterior doorway. She was unresponsive. CPR was administered, but attempts to resuscitate the woman were unsuccessful. Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Herschel Moore pronounced her dead at the scene and ordered an autopsy.
"Although the coroner's report has not been completed, preliminary investigations indicate the cause of death was probably smoke inhalation," Stith said. "But a lot of details are unknown at this time."
He also indicated the cause of the fire appeared to be "incendiary in nature." As Stith explained, "This could mean anything from reckless use of flame to arson."
Stith informed the state fire marshal of the fire and fatality. The state fire marshal toured the scene with a canine trained to detect the presence of accelerants. "This is standard operating procedure for a fire of this nature," Stith said.
According to Merritt's report, the fire possibly began inside a shower stall in which items of clothing and other articles had been piled up. "The cause of ignition has not yet been determined," he said.
Investigations headed up by both Stith and the BCSO are continuing.