Neighbor tells of rescue attempt
Pupils in the United School District are dealing with their second loss in a week.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
WINONA -- James Rozeski and his neighbor John Wolfe were in Rozeski's living room talking when they were alerted to a tragedy unfolding next door.
Rozeski's daughter, Jessie, said a neighbor had just pounded on the outside wall of Rozeski's trailer, screaming for help.
The men rushed outside Rozeski's mobile home off Whinnery Road in Butler Township shortly after midnight Wednesday to find the nearby mobile home of Barb and Brian Miller ablaze.
Brian Miller was away working, Rozeski said.
Barb Miller already had taken her twin boys, about a year old, from the burning trailer. Her two oldest children, Falanne Jenkins, 12, and Darten Jenkins, 11, had fled on their own, Rozeski said.
That left inside three more children.
The main entrance to the trailer, near the kitchen, was engulfed in flames, so the men and Barb went to the back of the home and tugged open a door, related Rozeski, a 41-year-old factory worker.
"Smoke started rolling out," he said. The men and Barb went inside, but the thick, choking smoke stopped them.
"It took your breath away," Rozeski said. The three made several attempts to get inside but failed.
"We tried. It's just a natural instinct," Rozeski said. "But they're not here," he added.
He was referring to the three children who died: Breanne Jenkins, 5; Bethany Miller, 4, and John Miller, 2.
Preliminary indications are that the children died of smoke inhalation, said Fran Rudibaugh, assistant to Columbiana County Coroner Dr. William Graham.
Their deaths are tentatively being ruled accidental. A cause of death and ruling will be issued once tests are completed, Rudibaugh said.
Bethany and John died at the scene. Breanne was pronounced dead at Salem Community Hospital, Rudibaugh said.
Darten and the twins, Noah Miller and Darian Miller, were taken to Akron Children's Hospital. As of this morning, Darten was in fair condition, upgraded from serious Wednesday; Noah remained in fair condition, and Darian remained in good condition. All are in the hospital's burn unit.
Treated and released
A Salem Community Hospital spokeswoman said this morning that Barb Miller and Falanne Jenkins were treated and released Wednesday.
A secretary at United Elementary, which some of the children attend, said the school has learned that Falanne also was treated. "She's OK," secretary Darlene Matheny said of the fifth-grader. Darten is a fourth-grader at the school. Breanne was in kindergarten there.
Rozeski said Barb told him that most the children were in bed and she just was putting the twins to bed as well when she smelled smoke coming from the kitchen. She investigated and saw flames, Rozeski related.
The state fire marshal's office had investigators on the scene Wednesday probing the cause of the blaze in the nearly 60-foot-long trailer. So far the fire's cause is considered undetermined but not suspicious, said Winona Fire Chief Daryl Doyle.
United Elementary's pupils, teachers and administrators were in shock Wednesday, said Matheny.
Breanne's kindergarten classmates were told of her death, "but they are not comprehending it," Matheny said.
This is the second time in a week that pupils attending United have to had to deal with loss.
High school Principal Stan Hargreaves, 52, of East Liverpool, died Friday of a heart attack, Matheny said.
A memorial service for the fire victims will probably be held, Matheny said. But no plans have been set.