January 6, 2009Buffalo, New York
YouNews™Story Published: Jan 5, 2009 at 6:57 PM EST
Story Updated: Jan 5, 2009 at 6:57 PM EST
RICHLAND, N.Y. (AP) - Eight people - including four young
brothers and their mother - were killed in a fast-moving house fire
despite the frenzied efforts of a firefighter-in-training who had
to be restrained from rushing back into his burning home.
"He wanted to go back in ... It took four guys to stop him.
They finally had to put him in handcuffs and put him in a patrol
car," neighbor James Riordan said of 42-year-old Anthony DeRoose,
who owned the home and was the lone survivor of the blaze.
"I can't imagine what it's like to see a family dying right in
front of you," Riordan said Monday.
Robin Dillenbeck, 26, was killed along with her four sons aged
10 years, 6 years, 20 months and 6 months. Also killed was
Dillenbeck's 19-year-old boyfriend, Dale Lance Jr., who was father
of the two toddlers, Dayton and Dante.
Killed along with the family of six were Lance's mother,
Michelle Lance, 41 and her boyfriend, David Muir, 33.
Police described DeRoose as a friend of the victims. It was not
clear if the house, listed on tax records as a two-family home, was
being used as a rental property.
The fire broke out around 3 a.m. Sunday inside the two-story
wood home in the rural town of Richland, 37 miles north of
Syracuse. The rustic hamlet of 400 sits on the Tug Hill Plateau, a
haven for snowmobilers that gets more than 300 inches of snow each
year. Many residents use wood stoves to heat their homes.
Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd said Monday investigators were
looking at the possibility the fire was touched off by a wood
stove, but it was too early to determine a cause.
"It was an old wood-frame building that had wood stoves in
there for heat," Todd said.
Investigators do not suspect arson.
Todd said there were no smoke alarms in the home.
"There's a good possibility they never knew there was a fire
until it was too late," he said.
DeRoose was renovating the house and had recently completed work
on the upper floor.
He had a first-floor bedroom and tried to rouse the others, who
were asleep upstairs, before making it out and calling 911. He
tried unsuccessfully to get back inside several times. The home was
engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived about 10 minutes later
and they never had a chance to get inside, Todd said.
"It went up so fast," said J.P. Wheeler, 18, who lives across
the street. "All four walls were standing when I first looked out
the window. When I looked again a few minutes later, they were
Witnesses and officials said the white-hot fire engulfed the
house quickly, melting the tail lights of a car parked in the
driveway. Riordan said he had to step away from his front window
because he could feel the heat across the street in his house.
"The flames were 30 feet up in the air and all white," Riordan
The upper floor collapsed into the first floor, and both caved
into the basement. Only a charred corner section remained standing
At least part of the home was more than 100 years old, according
to Riordan, who said he had helped DeRoose with some of the
DeRoose is an unemployed construction worker, said Riordan, his
neighbor of 18 years. DeRoose has been training to become a village
firefighter and is in his 6-month probation period, said local fire
"He was laid off and struggling to make ends meet," said
Riordan, who said he last spoke with DeRoose Saturday afternoon.
DeRoose, who escaped without injury, could not be reached for
comment Monday and authorities would not disclose his whereabouts.
"You can imagine he's pretty messed up by this," Riordan said.
Most neighbors were shocked by the tragic fire and did not want
to talk about it either.
"Either through school or the school district, or the fire
department, the churches, everything in a small community like
this, they all have ties," Todd said.
Dillenbeck's two older sons - Joseph Dillenbeck, 10, and Riley
Pottenburgh, 6 - both attended Sandy Creek Elementary School, where
a crisis team was in place Monday to help students and staff cope
with the loss. Administrators also telephoned the parents of
students who attended classes with Dillenbeck and Pottenburgh so
they could tell their children about the deaths before they arrived
at school Monday.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed to this report
in Albany, N.Y.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)