- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This story was updated at 9:55 a.m. April 18. See below for explanation.
A Lexington Park area woman died Wednesday afternoon at her home after her caregiver spotted a kitchen fire that quickly spread through the residence, investigators report, and the caregiver and a passerby were injured during their efforts to save her.
Bay District volunteer firefighters eventually were able to get 81-year-old Marion Wood Gatton out of the home along Route 235 in the St. James area, and the state fire marshal’s office reports that “valiant efforts” were made in an unsuccessful attempt to revive her.
Delores Pennington, the 47-year-old caretaker, and Jon Spindler, a U.S. Marine who spotted the house on fire and went in the front door, were taken to a hospital to be treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
A spokesperson at the state medical examiner’s office in Baltimore said Thursday that the cause and manner of Gatton’s death have not been determined.
Spindler, a 22-year-old corporal, said Thursday that he was told when he stopped at the scene that someone was still in the burning home, and that he and other people broke a front window in an initial attempt to get inside.
“I crawled in [through the doorway] and located [Gatton] on the bed. I tried to get her off the bed, but I couldn’t. I tried to pull the bed out, but I couldn’t,” Spindler said, because of the thick smoke.
Flames were coming out of the back of the house, between the kitchen and living room, when firefighters began arriving in response to a 1:17 p.m. alarm, Bay District Assistant Chief Joe Gould said.
Bay District firefighters Steven Vanness and Richard Roloson found Gatton on the bed, just inside the door in the living room, the assistant chief said, and they passed her out the broken front window to Bay District Sgt. Jermaine Sewell and Francis Raley, a safety officer with the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department who earlier had tried with Spindler to get Gatton out the front door.
Spindler said he helped from outside the house as Gatton was passed through the window, which “was the fastest way out.”
As Sewell began efforts to revive Gatton, Gould said, other firefighters began an “aggressive interior attack” on the blaze, but everyone was ordered to leave after the fire burned through one of their water hoses. A second line also was destroyed by the fire.
“Conditions just deteriorated within two minutes after we got inside,” Gould said.
Pennington suffered burn injuries to her hands before escaping from the fire’s heavy smoke, and Spindler was treated for “moderate smoke inhalation” during his efforts to enter the residence, according to the fire marshal’s office.
The cause of the fire has not been determined.
A hospice volunteer had been by the house earlier in the day, according to Pamela Gatton Cole, Gatton’s daughter, and Pennington was there that afternoon.
“She’s still in the hospital for injuries [from] yesterday, trying to save my mom,” Cole said Thursday. “The caregiver tried her best.”
Spindler said that he was released late Wednesday afternoon from the hospital.
Gatton was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in about 2006, three years after her husband’s death, and had been confined to bed for the last six years, her daughter said. Earlier in life, Gatton worked with St. Michael’s Church and its Ladies of Charity, frequently watched her grandson drag race at Budds Creek and enjoyed eating steamed crabs and crab cakes.
“She loved playing cards with the family, and going out to dinner with family and friends,” Cole said. “It was mainly [in recent years] just spending time with the family.”
Ridge fire and rescue volunteers and additional firefighters from 2nd District, Hollywood, Mechanicsville and 7th District also responded to the blaze, along with Lexington Park and 2nd District ambulance crews.
Gould thanked Calvert County firefighters for also aiding in the response.
This story was updated to correct the account of how the victim was removed from the home.