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MIAMI UNIVERSITY Smoking materials caused deadly fire



Published: Sat, April 16, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



OXFORD, Ohio (AP) -- Smoking materials ignited a couch in the accidental fire that killed three Miami University students in an off-campus house, authorities said Friday.

The three students were highly intoxicated, all with blood-alcohol levels more than double Ohio's legal limit for driving, Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said.

Smoking materials came into contact with the combustible parts of the couch in the first-floor living room. The 19th century-built house's electrical wiring was not a factor in the fire about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Oxford Fire Chief Len Endress said at a news conference.

"This was entirely an accident," he said.

The victims

Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., were guests at the house and died of carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation in beds in separate, second-floor bedrooms, authorities said.

Stephen Smith, 22, of Bethesda, Md., died from inhaling superheated air as he tried to escape the house, the coroner said. Eight other people escaped.

Smith was one of nine men who leased the brick house in this college town about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

Endress said smoke detectors on the first and second floors were working because people in the house heard them go off. However, he said investigators found that one or two smoke detectors on the second floor did not have batteries.

The students had gone to a party at another location on Saturday night before returning to the house and going to bed between 1:30 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Endress said.

Had the victims been sober, they may have been able to react more quickly to the smoke detectors or someone trying to wake them, he said.

"They were impaired. But everyone handles alcohol differently, so it's impossible to tell how impaired they were," he said.

Katie Rodriguez, 22, of Rochester, Minn., one of Turnbull's roommates at another off-campus house, questioned why authorities had to mention the victims' alcohol levels.

"What difference does it make?" she said. "Are they going to say whether she had freckles?"




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