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Published: Saturday, 12/1/2007

Community rallies behind West Toledo fire survivor

BY LAREN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Anthony Diaz, the only person to survive a fire that killed four family members Wednesday, night, removes some items from the home at 4046 Lyman Ave. A candle started the fire. Anthony Diaz, the only person to survive a fire that killed four family members Wednesday, night, removes some items from the home at 4046 Lyman Ave. A candle started the fire.
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As family members of the four victims killed in a West Toledo house fire continue to grieve, an outpouring of community support gave them hope that the three young children and their mother will receive proper burials.

Thousands of dollars were donated through funds set up at Huntington Bank and the United Way - an amount that continued to grow throughout the day yesterday.

By noon, about $1,300 had been donated. The total nearly doubled within a few hours and reached close to $4,500 by the end of the day, said Shannon Loar-Tenney, regional marketing manager at Huntington Bank.

The money will be used to help defray the family's funeral costs. Those killed in the fire Wednesday at 4046 Lyman Ave. were Michele Crawford, 29, her daughters, Yaniela Crawford, 11, and Victoria Crawford, 7, and the couple's son Ivan Diaz, 4, who was battling kidney cancer.

Roses are left in front of the home where four family
members died Wednesday.
Roses are left in front of the home where four family members died Wednesday.
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"There's definitely no way [that] without this help this could be done," said Belinda Garza, Ms. Crawford's aunt. "We really appreciate everything everyone is doing."

Ms. Crawford's fiance, Anthony Diaz, 27, was treated at Toledo Hospital for smoke inhalation from the fire. Mr. Diaz visited the scene of the fire yesterday afternoon.

The fire, which was reported about 10 p.m. Wednesday, was caused by an unattended candle left burning on a table in the living room, authorities said. The candle ignited nearby furniture, causing $150,000 damage to the structure.

Deputy Fire Chief Luis Santiago said the fire was ruled accidental.

Mr. Diaz was able to escape the blaze, but tried several times to rescue his family. He awoke to heavy smoke and flames inside his home after falling asleep on the living room floor with his son and fiance.

The father screamed for his children to get to a balcony at the back of the house, where they could jump to safety. He searched for Michele, who had difficulty walking as a result of a muscle weakness on the right side of her body. Mr. Diaz wasn't able to find her.

Charmain Jackson of Findlay, accompanied by son, Kelavonte, 4, help remove items from the ruined home. Michele Crawford, who died in the fire, was Ms. Jackson s best friend.
Charmain Jackson of Findlay, accompanied by son, Kelavonte, 4, help remove items from the ruined home. Michele Crawford, who died in the fire, was Ms. Jackson s best friend.
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Mr. Diaz broke several windows with his fist to clear the thick smoke from the home. He tried to get to an upstairs bedroom where the children were sleeping, but the smoke and heat were too intense.

"I had one reason for living, [and] that was my family," Mr. Diaz said Thursday. "That one night I lost everything that meant anything to me."

Firefighters found Michele in the living room. The children were found in an upstairs bedroom - Yaniela and Ivan lying next to each other on a bed and Victoria under a window.

The makeshift memorial of stuffed teddy bears, balloons, and cards on the front lawn of the Lyman Avenue home continued to grow yesterday.

Cars drove slowly past the house, each pausing for a moment as they passed.

Michele's sister, Melissa Sparks, visited the site of the fatal fire on Thursday, hoping it would provide some answers.

Belinda Garza, left, and Kim Crawford, the aunt and mother of Michele Crawford, examine the victims  photos during an interview at the Clear Channel radio building downtown.
Belinda Garza, left, and Kim Crawford, the aunt and mother of Michele Crawford, examine the victims photos during an interview at the Clear Channel radio building downtown.
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"It was excruciating," Ms. Sparks said yesterday.

After examining the damage, she said she didn't believe it would have been possible for her sister, nieces, and nephew to survive the blaze. Her only hope is that they didn't suffer.

Kim Crawford, who lost her daughter and three grandchildren in the fire, said the tragedy has helped her realize how precious life is.

"Cherish your family," she said. "It was taken away from me."

Funeral arrangements are pending and are being handled by Coldren-Crates Funeral Home, Findlay.

Contact Laren Weber at:

lweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.


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