FINDLAY - A Findlay High School senior described as having "a heart as good as gold" who "always helped everybody" died yesterday following a fire at her south-side home.
Crystal E. Greiner, who would have turned 18 tomorrow, was pronounced dead in Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center at 1:30 a.m. shortly after firefighters got her and 15-year-old Danielle Greer out of the smoke-filled, two-story house.
Danielle, whose father is engaged to Crystal's mother, Louanna Greiner, was treated in Blanchard Valley. The two girls were the only ones at home.
"I was sleeping, and I woke up. I was sweating, and I got up and smelled the smoke," Danielle told a 911 operator. Fire officials said the girls were asleep in separate bedrooms when Danielle awoke just before 12:30 a.m., discovered the smoke, and called 911 on a cell phone. "I tried to open my door, and a bunch of flames came in," she told the operator.
As the operator coached her to stay on the floor and breathe through a piece of clothing, Danielle asked about her "sister" and whether firefighters had gotten to her upstairs bedroom.
"Where's my sister?" she pleaded between tears and heavy breaths. "Why aren't they in here yet?"
She was trapped inside her first-floor bedroom for an agonizing 17 minutes while she waited for rescue crews. Crystal was upstairs. Firefighters arrived at the Greiners' home 7 minutes after receiving the 911 call. Findlay Fire Chief Roy DeVore said they completed the rescue and had the fire under control 11 minutes later.
An autopsy was to be performed today by the Lucas County Coroner's Office in Toledo, but Chief DeVore said it was apparent Crystal died from smoke inhalation.
The fire started in the front living room near the sofa and an artificial Christmas tree, which was lighted at the time. Chief DeVore said investigators with the city fire department and the state fire marshal's office had not determined how the fire began, but were focusing on the tree lighting.
"We've ruled everything else out," he said.
Two smoke detectors in the house at 1219 Park St. did not work. The chief said one did not have batteries, and the other either had a dead battery or other mechanical problems.
Crystal's uncle, Brad Wright, said his sister was devastated by the loss of her only child. Mrs. Greiner was at work at Cooper Tire at the time of the fire.
"Crystal always helped everybody," Mr. Wright said. "She had a heart as good as gold. Crystal was one of a kind."
Crystal attended the Millstream Technology Center where she was secretary of the Business Professionals of America chapter. She attended the Findlay First Church of the Nazarene and was active in its youth group. Mr. Wright said his niece wanted to be a photographer.
"She wanted to go to college," he said.
In a statement, family members said Crystal "loved bowling, lifting weights, hanging out with her friends, and living life to the fullest. She will be sadly missed by Mom and Dad and everyone whose life she touched."
Findlay High School Principal Craig Kupferberg said the school informed students of Crystal's death after the first class period yesterday. Grief counselors were available in the auditorium for students who wanted to talk, and some chose to call their parents and go home, he said.
In October, two Findlay High School students were killed in a car accident on State Rt. 568. Another student who was in an accident over the summer remains in a coma, Mr. Kupferberg said.
"So it's been a bad year for us," he said.
Arrangements are being handled by the Kirkpatrick-Behnke Funeral Home, where visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow and prior to the noon service at the funeral home on Friday.
Contact Jennifer Feehan