Cause of fatal fire is ruled uncertain
March 11, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Michigan State Police fire investigators report that the gas supply had been turned off to a mobile home that caught fire early last Tuesday, resulting in the death of one man and serious injury to another.
The March 3 fire took place at Lot 188 in the Maple Grove Mobile Home Communities, at 2070 S. Almont Ave.
The fire victim was 30-year-old Jeremy Judd, a 1995 graduate of Imlay City High School, who reportedly died from smoke inhalation. The survivor, Kevin Williams, 26, was spared of a similar fate when he was pulled to safety by neighbors, Chris and Sally Cutler.
Specialist Sgt. Lenny Jaskulka of the Michigan State Police Flint post, said the gas had been turned off to the mobile home, leading to speculation that an alternative or electrical heat source was being used to heat the home.
"The origin of the fire appears to have been in the back bedroom, although the victim was in another bedroom," said Jaskulka. "We cannot eliminate an electrical heat source as the cause."
But there were other potential causes, Jaskulka noted.
He said both men were smokers, leading to the possibility that a lit cigarette sparked the fire. Speculation also remained that a pet alligator may have knocked over its heat lamp, touching off the blaze.
"That area of the house flashed," said Jaskulka. "The tank was there but there were no remnants of an alligator. We believe it died in the fire.
"There are an array of possibilities about how the fire started," he conceded. "But there is too much damage to know exactly what caused it."
Imlay City Police Chief John Stano said officers checked the area for exotic animals, but none were found.
"We were assured by the state police that no animals got out," said Stano.
Imlay City Fire Chief Kip Reaves said the fire was called in shortly after 5 a.m. Departments from Goodland, Attica and Almont also responded, as did Imlay City police and Lapeer County EMS.
Fire chief credits couple
Reaves offered praise to the Cutlers for their shared effort in rescuing Williams and for alerting other neighbors of the fire.
"It is very likely that they saved his (Williams') life," said Reaves. Williams has reportedly been released from the hospital.
Sally Cutler said she and her husband were awakened last Tuesday by what sounded like a small explosion.
"It sounded like a boom or thunder clap right outside our bedroom window," Sally recalled. "There was a big orange ball of fire.
"I ran outside and Chris called 911," she said. "I ran to the front of the house, banged on the door and yelled out to Kevin. I was able to open the door a little bit and a lot of smoke came out."
Soon realizing that the weight of Williams' body was blocking their entrance to the home, the couple continued their rescue effort.
"Chris was able to squeeze his body through the door, then he rolled Kevin away from the door and got him out. He (Williams) was unconscious and we pulled him down onto the grass," Sally said.
Sally Cutler stressed that the couple responded to the emergency in the same way anyone would have.
"We just did what anybody else would have done under similar circumstances," she said.