News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 4, 2014

Autopsy today for downtown fire death

61-year-old man dies in overnight blaze at Deming Center; cause under investigation

TERRE HAUTE — A Terre Haute man is dead after a late night fire at the Deming Center, a downtown low-income housing facility.

The fire remains under investigation, but Jeff Fisher, fire chief, said it appears the death was likely related to the blaze; however, it was impossible to say for certain before an autopsy, he said.

An autopsy is scheduled for this morning, said Dr. Susan Amos, Vigo County coroner.

The fire, which was contained to a single apartment on the third floor, had burned itself out when firefighters arrived, Fisher said. Investigators are “leaning towards an accidental fire,” he said.

The man’s identity was not released Friday, but he is 61 years old, Fisher said. Because of the death, criminal investigators were called to the scene, he said.

Residents of the building, which has about 109 apartment units, were evacuated in the middle of the night.

Douglas Slusser, who lives in the apartment next door to the one in which the fire took place, said he heard noises coming from the apartment late Thursday night. Slusser said he and his wife, Adonia, and their small dog were evacuated by emergency responders about midnight and remained outside for a couple of hours.

“We got to know him,” Douglas Slusser said of his neighbor. “He was a nice guy, well mannered.” The man had lived in the Deming Center for about 12 years, Slusser said. The man had recently had surgery on his shoulder, residents said.

Fire crews were called to the scene a little before midnight and remained until about 2 a.m., Fisher said.

A slight smell of burned material was still noticeable on the third floor Friday. The carpet on the hall outside the apartment was stained black, likely from the tracks of emergency officials entering and leaving the apartment.

Three windows from the apartment, which faced east, were broken out. It was not known whether firefighters broke the windows to improve ventilation or if the windows broke due to heat from the fire, Fisher said.

The Deming Center is managed by the Terre Haute Housing Authority. The Authority’s board of directors recently sold the eight-story building, opened in 1914, to Indianapolis-based Core Redevelopment, which plans to renovate the historic structure into modern housing.

Residents of Deming Center are expected to move to Warren Village, a new Housing Authority property, later this year or in early 2015. Warren Village is on North 25th Street.

Because Deming Center is a high-rise, two ladder trucks were dispatched to the scene, Fisher said. There were also four fire engines, a paramedic unit and several other fire units and police on scene, he said.

See www.tribstar.com for additional details as they become available.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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