Thursday, October 28, 2004

Fire burns home; owner found dead

By Janice Morse
Enquirer staff writer

Firefighters and investigators gather in front of a home that caught fire on North Main Street in South Lebanon Wednesday. The homeowner, James A. Taulbee, was found dead inside the front door.
SOUTH LEBANON - Firefighters discovered the owner of a burning home lying dead just inside the front door Wednesday.

Investigators are working to determine whether the 49-year-old man died from the fire or another cause.

James A. "Butch" Taulbee Jr. was dead at the scene in the 200 block of North Main Street. An autopsy is set for today.

"I was just hoping to God he wasn't in there," said neighbor Lucy Gambrel, 30, who called 911 after her boyfriend saw smoke billowing from Taulbee's home. She said Taulbee was a father of two who lived alone with his Great Dane, Duke. The dog survived.

Authorities declined to say if the fire was considered suspicious. The Ohio Fire Marshal's Office and others are investigating - standard procedure in a fatal fire, said Fire Chief Gary Arnold.

Firefighters were called to the home at 1 p.m. Arnold was the first to arrive, just a minute later.

By then, flames lapped to the top of the two-story wood frame house, Arnold said.

Gambrel's boyfriend, Bryan Edwards, 39, said that he ran to look for Taulbee, who was a former roofer who would lend ladders to him.

"The flames were blowing the windows out," Edwards said. "I was yelling, 'Butch! Butch! Are you in there?' "

He got no response.

Unclear if anyone was in the fire, firefighters attempted to go inside, the chief said.

"They tried to push open the front door - and that's when they found him," Arnold said. "I've been in the fire service 30 years, and this is what you hate to have happen."

A Deerfield Township firefighter, whose name was not released, hurt his knee while pushing through the door. He was taken to Bethesda North Hospital for treatment.

If Taulbee died as a result of the fire, he would be Warren County's first fire fatality since 1989.


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