Friday, March 23, 2012

EDITORIAL >> City turns to prayer

This has been a terrible week for the Jacksonville Fire Department, which saw one of its own killed while working an accident. It ended with the deaths of four children and their mother who died in their apartment under tragic circumstances.

The week started with the loss of a beloved department veteran, Capt. Donald Jones, 56, who was run over by an unbalanced driver late Monday night.

The driver, an Army veteran named Bryce Allen with a criminal record and a history of mental problems, wanted to get to the scene of a minor traffic accident involving his mother on Hwy. 161 South in Jacksonville.

Allen, who is considered delusional, slammed into three first responders after he went around barricades: Jones, who was killed at the scene; firefighter Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DeMatteo, who are recovering from surgery.

As The Leader’s Sarah Campbell reported on Wednesday, Allen is bipolar and has a record of violent behavior and psychiatric problems. He may have become unhinged when he arrived at the scene and saw emergency crews near his mother’s SUV.

Allen is in jail and could plead insanity. Many wonder why Allen was allowed to drive a vehicle considering his mental state.

In any event, the victims’ families and the fire department still can’t make sense of the tragedy.

There was more terrible news a few days later, when the department responded to two more fire calls only a mile or so apart, one at Northeastern Avenue on the edge of the Foxwood subdivision near Hwy. 67/167 and the other at Max Howell Place, which houses low-income families.

The first fire at Foxwood was supposedly put out the night before, but it restarted early Thursday.Fortunately, no one was at home, but the smoke from that blaze may have confused firefighters when they answered a call at Max Howell Place after a resident complained about smoke in the building where Marilyn Beavers lived with her four small children.

Firefighters soon left, thinking that the resident smelled the smoke from Foxwood, when in fact a mother and her four children were overcome with smoke inhalation in their apartment.

Firefighters were still in shock from the earlier tragedy when they responded to the apartment fire. The latest tragedy has brought in a team of state investigators to determine what went wrong and find out why the blaze was not detected earlier.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, hurrying from one crisis to another, felt the need to pray after emergency workers removed the bodies of Marilyn Beavers and her young children from their apartment.

A complete investigation should determine why the horrors at Max Howell were not discovered sooner.