HUBBARD FATALITY Stove spark ignited fire, official says
The brother-in-law of the victim is baffled at why he didn't wake up.
HUBBARD -- An unattended stove likely sparked a fire that killed a Youngstown man while he was dog sitting at his sister's house in the township, a fire investigator said Sunday.
Firefighters found George Palencar dead Friday afternoon on the bedroom floor after the kitchen blaze tore through the roof of the ranch house at 1777 Kokomo Drive at 4:45 p.m.
It looks as if Palencar, 49, died of smoke inhalation, said Chuck Hanni, arson investigator for the state fire marshal's office.
"He may have fallen asleep, or he may have gone to the bedroom and forgotten about the stove and was overcome by smoke," Hanni said.
Autopsy results are due soon.
The two dogs -- Dekota, a 2-year-old golden retriever, and Ernie, a 12-year-old shepherd mix -- also died in the bedroom, one under the bed, the other on top.
The homeowners, Anita Whitley, and her husband John, were visiting their son at Ohio Northern University at the time.
John Whitley, who said his brother-in-law would "give you the shirt off his back," can't understand why Palencar didn't wake up, especially because the dogs were barkers.
"My brother-in-law died, and I keep thinking about why he couldn't get out," Whitley said from a room in Liberty's Holiday Inn, where he is a chief engineer. "It doesn't make sense."
Whitley described the dogs as "our kids," saying they were "spoiled pooches."
If there is a silver cloud, Whitley said, it's the tender support from police and the community.
Whitley said his wife, who has multiple sclerosis, is holding up.
"She was hysterical, but she's coming through like a champ."
Anita Whitley is a social worker at Forum Health Northside Medical Center in Liberty. The Whitleys' son is John Joseph.
Firefighters contained the blaze to the kitchen.