‘I couldn’t save him’

Published 12:10 pm Monday, April 28, 2014

The scene in the afternoon after a duplex fire in Hardy Drive early Monday morning left one occupant dead.

The scene in the afternoon after a duplex fire in Hardy Drive early Monday morning left one occupant dead.

UPDATE: The victim has been identified as Terrence Michael Battle, 58.

A man who perished in a North Suffolk apartment fire early Monday morning had been smoking in bed, according to neighbors in the 4600 block of Hardy Drive.

Firefighters were called to the fire about 3:20 a.m., arriving eight minutes later and battling the blaze for an hour and 14 minutes before it was under control, according to city spokeswoman Diana Klink.

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The Suffolk Fire Marshal’s office ruled the fire accidental because of a carelessly discarded cigarette, Klink said in a press release.

The man died in one side of a duplex, where he lived with a second man. Freda Smith, who lives next door, said she woke up at 6 a.m. and “saw the fire trucks.”

“I was shocked,” she said.

Smith said a neighbor told her his uncle’s house had caught on fire. “Then I saw the uncle, and he was very distraught because the man he lived with, he was calling him and he was trying to save him,” she said.

“When he opened the house, he was overcome by smoke. He said, ‘I couldn’t save him, Miss Freda, I couldn’t save him.’”

The uncle told Smith he had rang the doorbell of his sister’s apartment — the other side of the duplex, from which a family of four escaped with their lives, according to the city — to alert them.

“They got out, but he said he just felt bad because the guy was calling his name,” Smith said. “They couldn’t get into the house because the flames were so bad.

“If he hadn’t of woken up, we would have been having more bodies. He would have been asleep, it would have got him, then it would have got the family on the other side.”

The two men and the family in the duplex were “nice people,” Smith said. “When I moved here two years ago, they just got me under their wing.

“The fire people said that he was smoking and fell asleep with the cigarette.”

Sisters Travela and Tiffany Womack, who live next door on the opposite side from Smith, said they were afraid their home would burn.

“I was scared it would explode,” Travela Womack said. “It’s not that far of a distance between this duplex and the next.”

She said she knew the deceased man’s housemate because he cuts her grass and sometimes helps taking out the trash.

“I also heard that it was due to smoking in bed,” said Doncilla Brown, who lives across the street.

“I don’t know them by name, but when I passed their home they always waved and said hello. It’s such a tragedy.”

Late Monday afternoon, the city was withholding the victim’s name pending confirmation by the Medical Examiner’s Office. No injuries were reported among the other duplex occupants.

The American Red Cross will provide assistance to the surviving housemate and three residents in the adjoining apartment, Klink said.

Klink also said both sides of the duplex had smoke detectors, but the surviving resident on the side where the death occurred did not recall hearing theirs go off. The detector on the side where four residents escaped did work.