FOX13 Investigates: 10 lives lost in Severson Ave house fire

By: Marius Payton

Updated:

MEMPHIS, TN - Ten lives were lost in October of last year after a fire broke out in a home on Severson Avenue.

That home had burglar bars on the back window, trapping that family, including 7 children.

Six months later, we asked the city what has been done to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

FOX13 has been talking to the family and city leaders about what's been done concerning burglar bars since that tragedy. We found out nothing has been done.

Right after the incident, some city leaders spoke openly about how they wanted legislation surrounding these burglar bars to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Now 6 months later, there's been no new legislation. We found out the solution is there, but getting new legislation passed would be difficult.

Memories etched in concrete. A future football player. A future musician. All angels now. In September of last year, a fire destroyed their small home. Mary Whitmore lost her sister, Carol Collier.

"My sister was gold. And that's why we came up with that poem. That's all I can say,” said Whitmore.

"I come out here and goosebumps. It's just overwhelming to see this many children on one monument," said Donna Kirk. Kirk, of "Our Fallen Heroes Foundation" helped to provide the headstones for the victims. With a proper burial now complete, her attention has shifted to burglar bars.

The bars on the house used to keep people out.

"But what they don't realize, what they're doing is. By not having a safety release on there, basically what they've done is just trap themselves inside,” said Kirk. 

Whitmore added, "My sister was trapped and she didn't have a way out."

Days after the incident, Councilman Martavious Jones talked about passing legislation surrounding the bars and going after landlords who rent houses equipped with them. He had this to say back in September. "You are putting your safety in someone else's hands."

6 months later, no new legislation to speak of.

"We are still looking at this because what I've learned is that there is a fire code. We have building codes so I'm still learning the ropes," said Jones.

Jones said the bars with a safety release are the solution. People wouldn't be trapped inside. But forcing homeowners to buy them would be difficult. Rental homes are a different story. But older homes who already have these dangerous bars would be grandfathered in. Meaning no change whatsoever.

"I think had this been a renter or a piece of rental property then we have a little bit more leeway," said Jones.

Even with legislation, Jones says there needs to be a balance between safety and cost. He will continue to look for answers. As a family continues to grieve.

We asked May Whitmore if she would be able to rest until something changes. Her answer was heartbreaking: “I haven't. It's been hard it really. It has been. It's been hard.”

"We pray that something like this never happens to anyone else. This is just devastating standing here looking at all of these children on his headstone," added Kirk.

Whitmore said just last week, she made sure that her mother's burglar bars were equipped with the keys needed for a quick escape in case of fire. But she says her mother's window is so high that it would still be difficult for her to escape. Whitmore's biggest fear is reliving this pain once again.

 

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