Blaze in home for aged kills one

Staff WriterMarch 10, 2006 

Firefighters tend equipment outside the apartment.

STAFF PHOTO BY HARRY LYNCH

A man died Thursday in an apartment fire at Oldham Towers, a public housing high-rise for senior citizens on the east side of downtown.

The seven-story brick tower at 519 East Main St. was built in 1969 and does not have a sprinkler system. It is, however, two blocks from a fire station. The first truck was on the scene about a minute after the 911 call came in at 4:53 p.m.

When firefighters entered the burning room, No. 503, they found the dead man, according to Battalion Chief John Krokowski of the Durham Fire Department.

The fire was extinguished quickly and prevented from spreading to other rooms. Officials said there were no other injuries.

A distraught man standing outside said the dead man was his father, Bonie Lee Parker, 76.

"He was smoking and fell asleep," Anthony Parker said. "He's don't supposed to smoke. He takes 19 pills a day, can't walk. He's sick."

The fire chief wouldn't confirm the victim's name or comment on the possible cause of the blaze.

The Durham Police Department was called to investigate, and officers could be seen knocking on other doors on the fifth floor, interviewing elderly residents, some using canes and walkers. Crime scene technicians collected evidence in the room where the body was found until well after sunset.

Parker said his father was a native of New Haven, Conn., and had worked on the janitorial staff at the Durham Housing Authority for about 35 years before retiring. He sang gospel music and recorded an album, the son said.

Parker said he had been standing on a corner at the end of the block when he smelled smoke. He said he ran into the building just after the firefighters.

"By the time I got up there, they were pulling him out," Parker said. "He was all burnt up."

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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