Homicide detectives and a crime lab officer were sent to the fire scene.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- If an accelerant was used to start the fire at 33 E. Lucius Ave., the crime is not just arson, but double homicide, an investigator says.
Two girls -- Rakaylah Clark, 8, and her sister, Ranayja, 4 -- died from smoke inhalation in a second-floor bedroom of the 2 1/2-story house about 12:50 a.m. Thursday.
Their mother, Darilyn Clark, and older sisters, Chaunte, 11, and Crystal, 10, made it to safety by kicking out a second-floor window that led to the porch roof of their South Side home. Firefighters used a ladder to bring them down.
A next-door neighbor said she heard a "boom" then saw flames at the side entrance to the house and called 911. The fire, initially listed as suspicious, started there and spread upstairs, filling the house with thick, black smoke.
Reports show that hardwood, plywood and upholstered furniture generated most of the smoke. Smoke detectors were found without batteries inside.
Fire Lt. Alvin Ware, commander of the arson bureau, said Thursday that he found a smoke detector in the basement that worked.
Ware said that, as with all fatal fires, burned items found at the origin of the fire will be tested to see if an accelerant was used. Ware said he would take samples of what burned to Columbus today for testing and hoped to have results in a week or less.
If the fire was set on purpose, the crime would be arson and a double homicide, Ware said. The arson investigator said there were no smokers in the house and no electrical problems.
Interviews of family, friends and neighbors continued today.
Detective Sgts. John Kelty and Pat Kelly from the police department's homicide division were at the scene Thursday. Robert Mauldin, a crime lab officer, also was on hand to photograph the damage.
A "pour pattern" indicates a flammable liquid may have been poured on the landing at the side entrance, reports show. No accidental cause could be determined, investigators said.
Lt. Robin Lees, Youngstown police public information officer, said the police and fire departments are conducting a joint investigation.
Battalion Chief Tim McGarry said that including homicide detectives is "just a basic heads-up." McGarry said no conclusions can be made until results of the tests are obtained.
The dead girls' mother told firefighters that she woke up to go to the bathroom about 12:30 a.m. She screamed to her four daughters, all of whom were in the same upstairs bedroom.
Went to another room
Rakaylah and Ranayja, instead of following their older sisters, ran to another bedroom, said acting Battalion Chief Rich Russo. No one could see in the dark smoke-filled house.
Betty Clark, the girls' grandmother, provided The Vindicator with small photos of Rakaylah and Ranayja at her Griselda Avenue home. She pointed to an 8-by-10-inch photo that the family would have preferred but it had been charred in the fire.
Thursday's fire deaths are the second and third this year.
Last month, firefighters found John Chacon, 42, unconscious in his upstairs bedroom at 14 Tod Lane. He died, and his wife, Marcia, remains in critical condition at St. Elizabeth Health Center.
A slow burn on the stove was listed as the cause of the fatal fire at the North Side home.