Chicago Tribune Reporter
For two days, fire officials apparently missed the body of a man who had been living inside an East Garfield Park home where a fire broke out Monday morning, Larry Langford, spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department, said Wednesday.
Crosby "Croz" Lipscomb, a retired janitor for the Chicago Public Schools, was one of three men that family said lived in the basement apartment of a two-flat home at 3534 W. Polk St. He apparently died after an accidental cooking fire broke out in the basement about 6:25 a.m. Monday, Langford said.
Family members said they found Lipscomb's body on Wednesday afternoon after kicking in the door to the home, which had been boarded up after the fire.
"The Fire Department didn't do their job," said Haywood Lipscomb, 42, a nephew of the victim who said he was among Wednesday's private search party. He said he had implored fire officials on Monday to keep looking for Lipscomb when his uncle did not emerge from the smoke.
"The whole family asked the Fire Department" to continue the search, Haywood Lipscomb said.
Fire officials said an investigation into the incident continues. The Chicago Police Department got involved in the case Wednesday, Langford said.
"It appears we missed a recovery," Langford said. "It's a terrible thing for a family member to find someone after a fire."
As of Wednesday, officials had not yet been able to talk to the responding firefighters, he said.
On Monday, when firefighters arrived, Lipscomb had likely already died, based on the strength of the blaze and the victim's location, Langford said. The Cook County medical examiner's office was expected to perform an autopsy, he said.
Haywood Lipscomb said he found his uncle on the floor near his bed with his arm reaching up, a picture frame covering his face.
The second-youngest of nine brothers and two sisters, Lipscomb was born in Forest City, Ark., said Albert Lipscomb, 63, an older brother.
Family members described Lipscomb as a gentle soul who rode his bike everywhere, loved to fish in the lagoon at Garfield Park and was especially close with family members. He loved to spend sunny afternoons on his porch, chatting with neighbors.
Relatives said he was 58 years old, although the Cook County medical examiner's office listed Lipscomb's age Wednesday as 51.
"He was lively, charismatic," said niece Tamarie Lipscomb, 34.
Her uncle liked to walk with a big walking stick, a habit that earned him the nickname "Moses," she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of relatives and neighbors watched as police and fire officials converged on the scene. The greystone's windows were boarded up, and burned debris, including a full-size mattress, littered the backyard.
"It's just negligence," said Roy Williams, a neighbor. "It's the Fire Department's job" to find victims.
Insurance company investigators were also in the home, Langford said. "We know they moved stuff around," he said.
Ervin Smith, a 50-year-old neighbor, watched Wednesday as Lipscomb was carried out in a black body bag.
"He was a beautiful guy," Smith said and smiled. "Just wonderful."
Tribune reporter Tribune reporter Andrew L. Wang contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 Chicago Tribune Company
April 9, 2009 Thursday
Chicagoland Final Edition