Meridian Star

Local News

November 6, 2013

Probe into deadly fire continues

MERIDIAN —     State and local fire investigators tried to find the cause of a structure fire that killed an elderly man late Monday night.

    Lauderdale County Coroner Clayton Cobler said the victim has been identified as Johnnie Lee Johnson, 84, of 311 24th Street. Cobler said Johnson died of smoke inhalation. Johnson's body was found by firefighters lying a few feet outside the bedroom he was sleeping in when the fire broke out around 10:15 p.m.

    Jason Collier, fire investigator for the Meridian Fire Department, was on the scene Tuesday morning along with Mississippi State Fire Marshall Pete Adcock and MFD Battalion Chief Ricky Leister to try and determine the cause of the fire. The inside of the mobile home was charred badly and one end of the residence was burned out.

    "The victim was sleeping in the other end of the residence and the smoke just overcame him as he tried to get out," Collier said. "We are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire."

    Collier said in this incident and another fatal fire that occurred Friday in which a mother and daughter died days later of severe burn injuries, smoke alarms likely could have saved everyone's lives.

    "It is frustrating to us as firefighters that not everyone has smoke detectors or if they do, don't maintain them properly so they will save lives," Collier said. "Smoke detectors will absolutely save your life. It has been proven over and over again."

    Officials said Ashley Nicole Rutledge, 27, and her three-year-old daughter, Shalia Mackenzie Rutledge, died over the weekend after they and two other members of their family suffered severe burns in the Friday morning blaze at a RV park on Highway 45 North. Officials said Rutledge's husband is in stable condition at a Georgia burn center, but that their 5-year-old son is still listed in critical condition there.

    Collier said the final ruling on that fire is that it was started accidentally but that investigators could not determine exactly what started the blaze.

    The Rutledge family had just moved from Georgia to Meridian two days prior to the incident.

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