Eleven-year-old autistic boy dies in fire; grandmother charged for leaving him alone
BY Oren Yaniv, Erin Durkin and Jonathan Lemire
Originally Published:Tuesday, February 16th 2010, 12:16 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 16th 2010, 11:21 PM
An autistic 11-year-old boy who can barely speak died in a fire that he set Tuesday when his grandmother left him alone in her Brooklyn apartment, officials and witnesses said.
Tavon Turpin used matches or a lighter to ignite the blaze in a hallway closet while his grandmother, Melinda McLain, 59, had gone to a deli near the Coney Island apartment, police said.
The grandmother was hit with criminal charges for leaving home without Tavon, who recently sparked a small fire by cooking a cell phone in a microwave, police and FDNY sources said.
"The kid didn't have a chance," said neighbor Wigberto Figueroa, 34. "It's so sad."
Tavon, who lived with McLain in Coney Islands's Ocean Towers, set the blaze around noon. Firefighters tried to revive the boy after pulling him from the 15th-floor flat, but he couldn't be saved.
McLain returned home, saw Tavon's lifeless body and broke down, weeping.
She was arrested Tuesday night at Coney Island Hospital, where she was being treated for smoke inhalation and asthma. Cops charged her with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, police sources said.
"She loved that boy," said neighbor Allen Pearsall, 48. "That little boy was this lady's life. None of us are perfect."
Four years ago in the same complex, a 7-year-old boy playing with a lighter sparked an inferno that killed three others. Ricardo (Rico) Clark, 16, and his two cousins, Jahgiria Sheffer, 10, and Jahnae O'Pharrow, 3, died after being trapped in their bedrooms.
Hours before Tuesday's fire, a 60-year-old grandmother died after surging flames trapped her inside her Queens apartment.
The blaze tore through the living room of Deborah Kelly's 17th-floor apartment in Lefrak City building just before 3 a.m., blocking the front door, witnesses said.The cause of that fire remains under investigation, but doesn't appear suspicious, FDNY officials said.
Neighbors said Kelly, a mother of two, had lived in the building for about 12 years. She shared her apartment with a daughter and a granddaughter. They weren't home at the time of the fire, neighbors said.
"She was a very lovely person," neighbor Loretta Henderson said. "They're a close family. It's sad."