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Down Memory Lane
June 17, 2011 - Joe Gorman
Not to brag, but I think I am the only reporter in the Mahoning Valley who covered the two deadlist fires in Mahoning Valley history: Thursday's blaze on Landsdowne Boulevard N.W. in Warren in which six people were killed and the January 2008 arson on Stewart Avenue on Youngstown's East Side where six people were also killed.
There are some similarities, besides the number of victims, including two adults and four children in each fire.
In 2008, I heard of the Stewart Avenue fire as I was dropping my two youngest children off at St. Stephen School in Niles from Jim Michaels on Radio 57. Thursday, I was finishing my second mug of coffee and was about to get ready for work when I heard of the Warren fire, again from Jim Michaels on Radio 57.
There are the stuffed animal memorials at each home, and the passers by who drive or walk by, some who are genuinely concerned, others just to gawk. You can tell who the gawkers are because they whip out their cellphone cameras. There are the frazzled neighbors next door and across the street who are a target for anyone with a microphone or notebook. There is the crying in the street and the utterances, both quietly and at the top of one's lung, to God.
And there are the firefighters, in both Youngstown and Warren. Some neighbors said Thursday that when they were awakened they were tempted to knock on the door to warn the Dorsey family but the flames were so hot they couldn't get near the home. That didn't matter to the firefighters. They kicked in a door and ran through the home because they had the sickening feeling in their stomach that there were people inside when no one was on the front lawn to say what happened and there were cars in the drive. Some neighbors, in fact, went out of their way to praise them for their bravery and dignity when the bodies were removed.
At the Stewart Avenue fire, a police officer tried to get in the back door but couldn't because of the heat and flames. But the crew working that fire also knocked in a door and raced up the stairs, battling fire as they did so, to search for Carol Crawford, her daughter and her grandchildren. We sometimes rip on firefighters, saying their salaries are too high and they get a sweetheart pension, but who else would run into a burning house and try to not only rescue someone, but someone they do not know and probably never even met? That takes a special person, a person who actually does it and not someone who just writes about it.
One big difference, however, is it appears that the Warren fire is accidental, while in Youngstown, Michael Davis was convicted of arson for setting the home on fire because he was mad someone stole his cell phone. The fact that Thursday's blaze was not intentional does not make it seem any less horrifying or hollow: In one case, a man places a grill to close to his home and he and his children and fiancee and nieces die; in the other, a man who probably still can not grow enough whiskers to shave once a week takes the street definition of respect to the nth degree and snuffs out six lives because someone had the gall to take his phone.
The fact the Youngstown fire was an arson made it more of a frenzy to cover. There were arrests and court dates, and then his mother surfaced briefly to give me a surreal interview at the Belmont Avenue McDonalds to stick up for her son until she slipped out of the limelight. That made the story an almost living, breathing person.
It was easy enough to know Thursday that bad intent was not suspected. There would have been 10,000 cops in the neighborhood, looking for evidence and knocking on doors and just waiting for someone to tell them to do something. I was also struck at the comments the neighbors made about the victims. I have covered Youngstown police for most of the past 10 years and Warren police as well, and I've been in a lot of neighborhoods in a lot of situations. And when people tell you they trust someone with their kids, you know they are respected, loved and counted on in that neighborhood. And that's what everyone said about the Dorseys.
I already know, even though the arrangements have not been announced yet, that the funerals will be the same. There will be massive crowds and much weeping. I know what some of it is like. As I have said before, I put a child in the ground and while I am over that -- I know she is in Paradise with the Lord and I will see her again someday -- there is always a part of you that has an emptiness inside, and you think about that every day. Now multiply that four times. Or six. It is not easy.
And nothing ever is in a situation like that. We in the media will move on, until the next big story, but the family and friends of these people won't be able to do that so easily. Here's hoping I never have to do a ``deadliest' story again.
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