The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Sean C. Morgan
Of The New Era 

Questions surround victim of fatal apartment fire in Sweet Home


March 15, 2016

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District personnel rush to knock down flames erupting from an apartment at 2300 Main St. early Sunday morning. The occupant, a 70-year-old woman, was found dead inside by firefighters. Photo by Sean C. Morgan

An elderly woman, who may have been suffering from mental illness, died early Sunday morning, March 13, in a three-alarm apartment fire in Sweet Home.

At approximately 1:34 a.m., the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District and Sweet Home Police Department responded to the fire at 2300 Main St.

Crews arrived to find fire moving from one apartment into adjacent units in a five-unit apartment building, said Lt. Zach Lincoln.

“Although crews worked quickly to extinguish and contain the fire to the apartment of origin, this fire did result in a fatality.”

Emergency responders located 70-year-old Ramona Sue Schrock deceased inside Apartment 4, where the fire originated.

While firefighters focused their efforts on putting out the fire, police officers began evacuating the remaining apartment units, police Sgt. Jason Ogden said.

SHFAD, SHPD and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office concluded their investigation Sunday, Ogden said. “The investigation determined that the fire originated at the cooking stove, which was found to be in the ‘on’ position.”

Lincoln said firefighters’ efforts were complicated by the fire’s spread through a common attic above the apartment units. Partitions divided the area, slowing the fire down but the partitions were difficult to extinguish. Firefighters cut holes in the roof to ventilate the fire and keep it from spreading further.

The apartment complex includes three unattached buildings, one with five units and another with six units along with a single-unit house immediately across the driveway from Apartment 4. The complex is owned by Manuel and Lolita Leon of Toledo.

All of the apartments sustained smoke and water damage, Lincoln said. “It’s definitely not habitable.”

Personal possessions survived the fire, and residents had returned to remove them Sunday afternoon, he said.

Keith Miller and Alison McCartin reside in the house. Both were asleep when the fire started.

Miller said he woke up to “what is that?” He heard a pop and crackling and recognized it was a fire.

“I woke, ran straight to the door,” Miller said. “I saw the glow, and I knew right away. I opened the door. Flames were everywhere.”

The flames extended 8 to 10 feet from the front of Apartment 4, he said. “I was honestly scared of my beard catching fire.”

“I’ve never been so scared,” McCartin said. “It was so hot.”

The heat from the fire cracked Miller and McCartin’s front window and melted cobwebs on the front of the house.

Miller said he grabbed some clothes, went outside and grabbed a hose. One resident, who had been at Circle K, was beating down the door to his mother’s neighboring apartment. Miller said the flames were almost touching him and may have burned him.

Police officers arrived afterward and evacuated the other neighboring apartment, Miller said.

“They barely got out, grandson and grandpa. The flame was almost touching the grandson.”

After that, another wave of police officers showed up and told Miller he could put down the hose because the fire department was on the way, Miller said. He went to help evacuate the two-story six-unit building.

Police officers broke down a door to get to one resident, and Miller escorted two others, one deaf and one partially paralyzed, out to Main Street.

“We’re all family,” Miller said. “I cook dinner for all these guys. Susie was our friend. We always cooked her dinner.”

Schrock was known as “Susie Q” around the apartment complex.

Miller was friends with Schrock’s son, he said. Then she moved into the apartment complex and met Miller and McCartin.

“She was really vibrant,” McCartin said. “One of her favorite songs was ‘Crazy,’ (sung by Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline). She loved to cook lasagna.”

Schrock was born in 1945, and she owned Susie’s Unique Boutique, selling “beautiful” purses at various events as a vendor, McCartin said. Schrock enjoyed turquoise and gem stones. She was Cherokee, and was a Christian.

“She had a passion for the Lord,” Miller said.

“I missed walking out and seeing her, saying ‘I love you,’ and hanging out on the doorstep,” Miller said Sunday afternoon.

“I think all of us neighbors, this morning, kind of missed that. She had a connection with everyone in here.”

As much as the neighbors cared about Schrock, Miller said, they have been worried as her behavior had become erratic in the past couple of weeks, and police have responded to several calls involving her.

She also had been leaving her stove on, Miller said. He had been telling her to turn her stove off for about three to five days. She also had been lighting candles and leaving them in her kitchen in front of her apartment and next to her bed.

She would talk about meeting her Creator, light a candle and put it on the ground, Miller said. She also recently had told him and a few others to get renter’s insurance.

She would get that way about once a year as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, Miller said.

Police Sgt. Jason Van Eck said that the Sweet Home Police Department had 10 contacts with her in March prior to the fire. In February, police contacted her just once.

On March 10, Schrock went to the hospital on a peace officer hold for mental evaluation after the police had contacted her for the third time that day, Van Eck said.

“She had been walking out into traffic,” Van Eck said, but when police talked to her, she gave no indication she was a threat to herself or to others.

“Without that indication it was kind of one of those things we don’t have enough to do this hold,” Van Eck said. He called Linn County Mental Health, and barring an officer hold, Mental Health planned to send someone to evaluate her the next day.

The first contact occurred at 3:18 p.m. Schrock left her walker and clothing on one side of the road, and clad in pajamas, crossed Main Street through traffic. She was not in a crosswalk.

At 4:12 p.m. that day, two men found her walker and clothing. An officer contacted Schrock, but she wasn’t interested in getting them back or making a report.

As the officer drove away at 4:27 p.m., he saw her walk into traffic in his rear-view mirror, Van Eck said. He turned around and took her into custody on a peace officer hold for mental evaluation.

Van Eck said he does not know when she was released. Police involvement ends once custody of a subject is transferred to mental healthcare workers for evaluation.

Police next contacted her at 5:35 p.m. on March 12, about seven hours prior to the report of the fire.

A neighbor had reported a woman yelling and throwing things outside, Van Eck said.

The responding officer advised Schrock to pick up her possessions.

The fire displaced five adults from the apartment building, according to the Red Cross, which is providing assistance for temporary lodging, assistance to address immediate basic needs, information about recovery services, disaster health services and disaster mental health services.

THIS 2011 PHOTO of Ramona Sue Schrock was recovered by neighbors.

Miller said the five-unit building actually housed seven adults and one child in addition to the victim.

A total of 30 firefighters responded, including crews from Lebanon and Brownsville. Halsey firefighters covered the district while crews were working.

Ogden asked that anyone with information related to the incident call the Sweet Home Police Department at (541) 367-5181.

Lincoln said anyone who wishes to help the displaced residents should contact the Red Cross at (541) 926-1543.


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018