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FDNY: No smoke detector found in Queens home where 5 died

On Monday, April 24, 2017, outside the firehouse in Ridgewood, Queens, where William Tolley worked, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation announced that it will pay off the rest of the Tolley family's mortgage on their Bethpage home. Tolley was killed in a fall while responding to the scene of a fire last week.  Credit: News 12 Long Island

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Monday that the Queens Village home where five young people died in a fast-moving blaze apparently lacked smoke detectors.

Nigro said investigators have not yet determined what caused the fire inside the two-story house on 208th Street — first reported at 2:36 p.m. Sunday by a passing motorist — but smoke detectors have not been found.

Nigro said investigators have preliminarily determined that the fire started at the home and spread to a car parked in the driveway and to an adjacent home.

“We know that the firefighters on the scene did all that they could and more to try to save these children,” Nigro said at an unrelated news conference in Ridgewood, Queens. “Unfortunately, all of the people that the firefighters were able to bring out perished. It’s a very, very sad day for the people of our city when five young lives are taken from us, five promising young lives, in the course of a quiet Sunday afternoon.”

The victims — family members and a pair of teenage best friends — were identified by police Monday as Chayce Lipford, 2; Rashawn Matthews, 10; Jada Foxworth, 16; Melody Edwards, 17; and Destiny Dones, 20. The victims were related, except for Edwards, who lived in St. Albans and was described by her family as a close friend and homework buddy of Foxworth.

Maurice Matthews, 46, the grandfather of the 2-year-old and the father of the 10-year-old, escaped the blaze, falling out of the second-story window and onto the roof of the home’s porch, officials said.

Edwards’ father, Glenford Edwards, stopped by the fire scene on Monday, holding a towel to his face as he started to cry.

“She is a brilliant girl at school,” said Edwards, 62, adding that his daughter was awarded a scholarship to the University at Albany. Melody wanted to be a lawyer, he said, adding he would call her “my lawyer daughter.”

“She was smart, she always put me in check,” he said, adding she would also correct his grammar.

Edwards said he would remember Melody as a “beautiful, very brilliant girl in school. She got a free scholarship because she was so bright in school.”

Firefighters responded within four minutes, authorities said, but the fire was already burning intensely and had spread to a vehicle in the driveway and a house next door.

Four firefighters suffered minor injuries, officials said Monday.

Foxworth and Edwards were pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, police said. Chayce was pronounced dead at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, and Rashawn and Dones were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

As investigators examined the home on Monday, the acrid smell of smoke hung in the air, and witnesses to the raging fire recalled the horror of seeing some members of the family trying to escape the burning home.

Benjamin Gordon, 45, who lives a couple of houses down from the fire scene, said he was coming home from church when he saw the flames. As he got closer, Gordon said, he saw a man on the roof overhang.

“He was running back and forth on the roof,” Gordon said, adding the man was yelling, “Help, help, help, help.”

Gordon and a friend yelled to the man that he had to jump, adding that he just kept thinking, “I gotta help this man, I gotta help him.”

“Finally he jumped and we grabbed him,” he said. “He’s like delirious.”

Gordon said he then ran to the back of the house as the glass by the dining room on the side shattered.

“I picked up a pole and I broke the back window out and the smoke hit me, boom,” he said, adding: “It was crazy, the smoke was so thick it backed me up.”

The mother of his children then called him around front, saying she saw people in the attic.

“I was yelling for the kids, ‘Are you in there?’ We didn’t hear nothing,” he said. “By the time I got to the front of the house, there was no movement in the window.”

Other mourners — amid a memorial of white balloons tethered to a fence, and white and yellow flowers placed in front of the charred home — arrived at the scene to share memories of those who died.

Natasha Khan, 15, said she was classmates and friends with Foxworth and both were members of the cheerleading team at Young Women’s Leadership School. Khan said she was at school when told of Foxworth’s death and came right to the house.

“It’s so hard, I didn’t expect this,” Khan said, speaking through heavy tears. “It’s devastating. I had to come.”

Khan said Foxworth had just returned from a national cheerleading competition in Florida.

“She was a good person,” Khan said, adding her friend loved cheerleading: “That was her life, she was dedicated to it. Half of my school is devastated, the whole cheer team.

“I’ve only known her for a year but it feels like we were so close,” she added. “Our friendship was everything to me.”

With Alison Fox and Michael O’Keeffe


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