House fire claims boy

4-year-old dies in blaze thought to be ignited by heater

Keith Gedamke / The Item
A Friday night fire at 409 Loring Drive claimed the life of 4-year-old Nashawn Spencer. Authorities think the blaze may have been started by a faulty space heater.

Item Staff Writer

A 4-year-old boy died Friday night in a Loring Drive house fire, and a faulty heater may be to blame.

Nashawn Spencer, of 409 Loring Drive, was killed from carbon monoxide poisoning and thermal injury resulting from the fire about 9:15 p.m., Sumter County Coroner Verna Moore said. Saturday autopsy results from Newberry Pathology Associates ruled the death accidental.

A Sumter Fire Department report said 11 firefighters in two engines, a ladder truck and a battalion vehicle arrived at the 900-square-foot duplex at 9:18 p.m., three minutes after getting the call, and had the fire under control by 9:23 p.m.

The report states that no smoke detector was present in the home, which was 75 percent involved with fire when firefighters arrived.

Early Saturday evening, Tiesha Spencer, 25, was surrounded by friends and family at her grandmother Ola Belle Richardson's Flamingo Road home, trying to understand the events that took the life of her son, a fun-loving Kingsbury Elementary preschooler who liked to ride his bike, play soccer and watch SpongeBob SquarePants and Spider-Man on TV.

Spencer, who works at McDonald's, lives with her daughter, Tyasia, 1, and her friend Melvin Ross, 39, and had moved into the home in June. She sleeps in the back bedroom, she said, and her son had the middle bedroom. She was coming out of the back room when she smelled smoke in the hallway.

"I couldn't see where it was coming from," Spencer said, but she could tell the middle bedroom was on fire.

"The bottom part of the mattress was on fire," she said.

When she cried out that the room was on fire, she and Ross went to the kitchen to get a bucket of water, "but the water was coming out (of the faucet) so slow," she said.

Frantically searching for her son, Spencer was distracted by her daughter's crying but kept looking for him. She yelled to the next-door neighbors that the bedroom was on fire, she said, and at that point, the smoke became overwhelming.

"The smoke was too severe," she said. "I couldn't barely breathe. I tried to go (back) in, but they pulled me out."

As the fire department and law enforcement arrived on scene, Spencer told them her son was missing.

"I said, 'My baby's in the house,'" and she told firefighters he may have gone into the front room where his toys were.

"They said they still didn't see him," she said.

While firefighters worked to contain the blaze, Spencer and Ross waited in a car, but she kept asking what started the fire. Firefighters, she said, asked her what was in the middle bedroom.

"I said, 'There's an electrical heater at the foot of (Nashawn's) bed,'" she said, that had been giving her problems. "The plug was acting crazy," she said.

The fire department's report lists a heater as the possible cause of the fire and estimates $20,000 in damage to the home, plus $15,000 in contents lost.

On Saturday, a black utility trailer sat in front of the charred house with yellow caution tape still draped across the front door. The trailer held a thin blue mattress with burned doors underneath and a completely burned set of box springs. A small pile of ashes on the concrete porch sat a few feet away from a white plastic bucket under the front window.

On the right side of the house, white Venetian blinds lay in a hastily discarded pile next to a twisted window screen and brightly colored but burnt children's clothing strewn between large puddles of water and shards of window panes. In the back bedroom, a partially melted TV sat on a cabinet. A pink down jacket and other clothing still hung in the closet.

At 405 Loring Drive, 16-year-old Jeremy Evans said he got home about 11 p.m., by which time the fire was out. He helped Spencer move in, he said, and his 4-year-old nephew Nassir Major used to play with Nashawn in the front yard.

Nashawn, reports said, was found in his bedroom closet. Authorities then had to deliver the news of his death.

"They came and told me he didn't make it," Spencer said while recounting the scenario at her grandmother's house, clutching a photo of her son.

Though he had a speech impediment, Nashawn was a good boy who didn't give his mother trouble and loved to play, Spencer said.

"He's a sweet little innocent child," she said.

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