More clues sought in fire
ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Several state fire marshals on Monday were canvassing a Rome Township area in search of information related to a fatal fire they believe was caused by illegal use of fireworks.
While it isn’t illegal in Ohio to buy the type of aerial fireworks that officials suspect ignited the fire, it is illegal to set them off in the Buckeye State, said Lindsay Burnworth, a spokesman for the state fire marshal’s Fire and Explosion Investigation Bureau.
Investigators believe hot embers from aerial fireworks fell onto combustible material next to the back of the home of Leo and Betty Sayre on Zola Drive at about 1 a.m. Saturday. Betty Sayre was bedridden, and Leo Sayre died when he went back in the home in an attempt to get her out, said Bill Nenni, deputy Lawrence County coroner. The Sayres, both in their 70s, died from smoke asphyxiation, according to Dr. Kurt Hofmann, Lawrence County coroner.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the state fire marshal’s Fire and Explosion Investigation Bureau at 800-589-2728.
Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said Monday that it will be difficult to pinpoint the source of any fireworks that may have started the fire.
The setting off of illegal fireworks can be a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of up to 180 days in the county jail, said Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson. The most serious charge that could be filed in the case would be involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, he said.
“We’re actively involved with the state fire marshal’s office and the sheriff’s office in the investigation,” Anderson said. “We have an investigator on the scene, too.”
The investigation is being handled as a criminal investigation, according to the state fire marshal’s office.
It is legal for retailers to sell Class C Consumer fireworks within the state of Ohio, but individuals cannot discharge them within state lines. According to the Ohio Fire Marshal’s website, anyone who purchases fireworks in Ohio has 48 hours to take them out of the state or risk legal action.
“Fireworks can be dangerous if you are not trained to properly set them off,” State Fire Marshal Larry Flowers said in a prepared release. “Only licensed professionals should be setting off fireworks. There is a great risk not only to yourself, but, as in this case, to others around you.”
The only type of fireworks legal to use in Ohio are those that smoke, snap, sparkle or snake, Burnworth said.
The fire marshal’s office doesn’t take a position on whether other types of fireworks, such as the type suspected in the fire at the Sayres’ home, should be available for sale, she said.
“The state legislature decides that,” Burnworth said. “We have nothing to do with making the laws, we just enforce them.”
Investigators said debris from the fireworks had been found in the neighborhood.
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