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Fire kills five in student-occupied house near Ohio State

Monday, April 14, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A suspicious fire broke out in a three-story house early Sunday as a college student's 21st birthday party was breaking up, killing five people and injuring three, authorities said.

One of the injured, a 20-year-old man, was in critical condition with burns and smoke inhalation, officials said.

Arson and homicide investigators were at the student-rented house near Ohio State University, and police were investigating reports that a fight had started before the fast-moving fire ignited, said police Sgt. Dana Norman.

Fire department officials said the cause was ruled suspcious.

Party guest Richie Delmont, an Ohio State junior, said the argument started after another guest tried to lift a refrigerator on a dare and one of the residents told him to stop. He said the confrontation did not get physical.

The house is about a block from campus in a neighborhood of older homes popular with students. About 80 people had been at the party, and 10 to 20 were inside when the fire started around 4 a.m., Norman said.

Firefighters found two men and three women dead inside; three of the five victims were Ohio University students and two others were students from Ohio State, OSU officials said. It appeared some had been sleeping when the fire began, Norman said.

Drinking could have been a factor in the deaths and injuries, Norman said.

"The smoke and gases from the fire are extremely deadly and when you're drunk or have been drinking that also contributes to slowing down your reaction time," he said.

University president Karen Holbrook spoke with investigators outside the house after a private briefing with fire and police officials earlier in the day.

"We are clearly a community in mourning," Holbrook said.

Of the 12 Ohio State students who lived in the house, 10 had been located alive, said one of the residents, Zack Randol, 21, a sophomore from New York who said he wasn't home at the time of the fire.

'The worst thing'

He said the party was to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of his roommates. "This is the worst thing that could happen," Randol said.

Jennifer Lehren said she and her boyfriend had been asleep in his bedroom at the back of the house on the second floor, and she woke up while firefighters were carrying the two of them to safety.

"I didn't know what was going on until I was outside," said Lehren, 20. said. "I remember screaming that it was so hot and that my hair was on fire."

Lehren was treated for burns and released. Her boyfriend, Josh Patterson, 20, was in critical condition with minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Two women injured at the house were expected to be released after treatment and two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, officials said. Identities of the victims were not immediately released.

About a dozen students who said they knew the men who lived in the house gathered on a nearby street corner Sunday afternoon.

"They're not wild. They don't have people over who would do this. They don't have enemies. They're not those kind of guys," said Tomomi Ono, 19.

Two women injured at the house were expected to be released after treatment and two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, officials said. Identities of the victims were not immediately released.


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