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February 15, 2012

2 perish in early Sunday house fire

New wood stove blamed for blaze that killed Strunk Ridge woman, grandson

WHITLEY CITY —  A wood-burning stove has been blamed for an early morning fire which killed a Strunk Ridge woman and her grandson on Sunday.

    The fire broke out around 4 a.m. Sunday morning at a one-story brick residence on Black Walnut Road, where Shirley Tooley lived with her 17-year-old grandson Jonathan Elliot as well as two mentally disabled men for whom she was a caregiver.

    Tooley, 52, died at the scene. Elliot was transported — along with 53-year-old Charlie Piechoski who suffered relatively minor injuries — to St. Mary’s of Scott County where the teen was pronounced dead.

    The fourth resident, Timothy Bell (described as about 40), was not injured.

    According to the Kentucky State Police, the preliminary investigation indicated that the fire originated at a wood-burning stove which had been newly installed in the living room.

    “We’re still investigating if the cause was discarded ash or the stove itself,” KSP Detective Billy Correll said. “No foul play is suspected.”

    Det. Correll said that the two men were able to escape because they were located closer to the front door while Tooley and her grandson slept in rooms nearer the back of the house.

    “We believe they attempted to get out but just didn’t make it through the smoke,” the detective said.

    While autopsies for Tooley and Elliot were scheduled to be completed yesterday, McCreary County Coroner Dan Ridener noted that smoke inhalation was the likely cause of death.

    Det. Billy Correll is in charge of the investigation and was assisted by KSP Post 11 Arson Investigator Brian Lewis, the State Fire Marshall’s Office, the McCreary County Sheriff’s Department, the Whitley City Fire Department, the McCreary County Coroner’s Office and the McCreary County EMS.

    Elliot was a senior at McCreary Central High School. Yesterday MCHS Principal Sharon Privett told the Record that the school has been devastated by the news. Additional district counselors were at the high school to talk with students and staff. A moment of silence was held as the day began for the well-liked and easy-going teen.

    “We’re all heartbroken,” Privett said. “Jonathan was a valued member of our student body. We are very close knit as a school and you can never be prepared for something like this. It will be a struggle to get through the remainder of the school year.”

    Principal Privett remembered Elliot to be a student of good standing with an exemplary behavioral record. He had taken Printer Technology courses with Debbie Jo Peterson all four years and enjoyed online gaming.

    “Some of the students didn’t know until they got to school this morning,” Privett said, adding that the student body has pulled together to sign condolence posters and take up a collection for the family.

    At press time, funeral arrangements were not available for Tooley and Elliot although Creech Funeral Home in Middlesboro is reportedly handling services for both.

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