Heroic act costs man’s life

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2011



CONVENT – A man and a woman died Friday morning after they were unable to escape a fire that ripped through a St. James Public Housing unit in Convent and displaced as many as 25 people.

Dan Wallis, assistant state fire marshal, said the two fatalities were the only injuries reported in the fire, which completely destroyed an eight-unit apartment building. He said the displaced residents were taken to a nearby Baptist church, where they received aid.

Wallis said firefighters received the call about the blaze just before 1:30 a.m. at 6202 Rev. Thomas Scott St. He said firefighters from the Union/ Convent and Paulina Volunteer Fire Departments responded to the scene. When they arrived, the entire single-story unit was consumed by flames.

The St. James Parish Housing Authority confirmed the names of victims as Shirley Scott, 59, originally of New Orleans and Ray Mitchell, 53, of Lutcher. Housing Authority Executive Director Dana Groover said the two were neighbors and very close friends.

Relatives of the victims and witnesses said Mitchell died after re-entering the building to try and save Scott from the fire. Scott’s cousin, Danielle Stepteaux, said Scott was on medication and was “a heavy sleeper.”

“When he knew that she was still inside, he didn’t even hesitate to get back in there,” Stepteaux said. “They were very close friends. It was unbelievable what he did. He is a hero still.”

Stepteaux said Scott and Mitchell struck up a relationship when Scott had moved to St. James Parish after Hurricane Katrina.

“It is very sad, but it could have been much worse,” Stepteaux said. “We were told that other neighbors banged on doors and windows to alert residents to get out of the building.”

Groover said the Housing Authority had leases for 10 occupants in the units, but added that others were living in the units at the time of the fire. She did not have an accurate count of those displaced but said as many as 25 were accounted for.

Groover said Red Cross immediately stepped in to offer short term assistance including food and clothing. She said the affected residents will be moved into other open housing units within the Housing Authority.

Wallis said there is still no clear cause but noted the Fire Marshal’s office is examining heating devices in the apartment where the fire began. He said all of the affected units had smoke detectors.