After a six-hour search using heavy equipment and cadaver dogs, the body of a man was discovered Saturday afternoon in the rubble of an apartment building torn down Friday afternoon after its destruction by fire.
The body was presumed to be that of Delano “Red” Fleming, 35, a father of three, who was reported missing by family members about 24 hours before the Toledo Fire Department began searching the rubble at 3125 Meadowbrook Ct.
Family members cried as news of the body located beneath the rubble was announced. Having huddled for hours in the cold to watch the search, many who were gathered at the scene immediately blasted firefighters for not searching the building thoroughly enough while the fire burned during the wee hours Friday, or again before directing a city crew to bulldoze its ruins later that day.
“They don’t know what condition the body is in or if they will be able to identify him here, or we will have to wait for the coroner,” said Rochelle Jackson, Mr. Fleming’s aunt.
“They didn’t search the building thoroughly or they would have found him,” she said.
Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago defended the fire department’s efforts, saying crews initially were focused on rescuing four children who were trapped inside the building, then knocking down the flames, before conducting a search of the apartments for any other occupants.
“There was a lot of activity going on at the time,” Chief Santiago said, adding that the fire department later “had a report that the other occupants were all accounted for.”
Chief Santiago said family members contacted the department around 4:30 p.m. Friday regarding a missing family member, but darkness prevented a further search of the destroyed building.
The city sent its demolition crew to the West Toledo site at 7:12 a.m. Saturday and search crews returned at 8:30 a.m., he said. Mr. Fleming lived in the unit alone, and his children, ages 1, 2, and 3, were not there during the fire, said his girlfriend, Shantell Peterson.
“We came here because we couldn’t find him and he wasn’t answering his phone, which is not like him,” said Ms. Peterson, who is the mother of two of Mr. Fleming’s children.
“They had to tow his truck to get in there to tear down the building after the fire, and we kept calling [authorities] to try to get them to look for Delano, but we kept getting nowhere,” she said hours before the body was found.
A city excavator began moving debris at the site at about 10:30 a.m. About 90 minutes later, two cadaver dogs and handlers called in from the Dayton area arrived to guide the search effort in the rubble.
The dogs went over the site several times throughout the recovery effort, stopping after each time so the excavator could move more of the rubble.
Workers persisted with the search even though the dogs’ initial sweep gave no indication of a body in the debris, fire Battalion Chief Bob Krause said.
“We are not giving up,” Chief Krause told family members after the first pass.
“Until we have it definitively ruled out, we will keep going. We are being very meticulous about how we are moving debris so we can do the search.”
Chief Santiago said a member of the fire search team discovered the body “in the area of [the victim’s] apartment.”
A cause for the fire is undetermined, the fire chief said. The body was sent to the Lucas County Coroner’s Office.
Fire crews left the scene at 7 p.m., officials said.
About 1:15 p.m., Franchesca Fleming, Mr. Fleming’s sister, announced that authorities had told her that her brother’s cell phone had been recovered from the rubble.
That grim discovery doused most hope that Mr. Fleming had somehow escaped the fire and was simply unreachable, she said. It was not clear how authorities determined that the phone belonged to Mr. Fleming.
“They should have never torn down the building,” Ms. Fleming shouted, fighting sobs after the body was found.
“They didn’t do a thorough search,” she said.
While Mr. Fleming’s building was ablaze, four children ranging in age from 3 to 9 in the apartment next to the burning unit were rescued without injury from the second floor of the 12-unit, three-story building.
Blade staff writer Jim Sielicki contributed to this report.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.