Fire’s origin undetermined

State fire marshal report points to melted plastic tote filled with ashes

Submitted photo A state investigation into the New Year’s Day fire at 2853 Woodland St. NE, Warren, that killed a mother and her son indicates the blaze possibly started in a plastic tote on the back patio that held cigarette ashes from a party that ended just hours before. Killed were Cassandra Gray, 34, and her son, Otto, 5. Gray’s husband, Lee Gray, and 7-year-old son, Simon, were able to escape.

WARREN — A state fire marshal’s investigation into the fatal New Year’s house fire that killed a Warren mother and her son indicates the origin of the blaze possibly was a plastic tote on the back patio that held cigarette ashes from a party that ended just hours before.

The investigation by assistant state Fire Marshal Todd Stitt officially shows the cause of the fatal blaze at 2853 Woodland St. NE to be undetermined.

“Based on my education, training and experience along with the physical evidence examination and statements … the cause of this fire is being ruled as undetermined,” Stitt wrote in his report. “The careless use of smoking materials cannot be eliminated as a possible ignition source for this incident.”

The fire killed Cassandra Gray, 34, and her 5-year-old son Otto Gray, who died at the scene from smoke inhalation, according to a report from the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office.

Stitt came to his conclusion after interviews with the adult survivor of the blaze, Lee Gray, 43, and by viewing video clips taken from neighbors and from Gray’s security camera at the rear of the home. The state fire marshal investigator and a Warren police detective interviewed Lee Gray twice on the day of the fire, first at the scene and then later that day at Gray’s parents’ home.

According to the incident report, Gray told investigators he was sleeping in the living room and was awakened by the smoke. The report showed Warren firefighters received the call for the structure fire about 3:15 a.m.

Lee Gray said his son Simon was sleeping in the living room with him. Lee Gray opened the door to a rear sunroom and observed a wicker toy chest on fire next to the window. Gray said he then went to the second floor to alert his wife, who was sleeping in a bedroom with their other son.

Gray told investigators he went back downstairs to get a fire extinguisher. He opened the door to the sunroom to try to put out the blaze and the fire extinguisher failed, he told investigators. The room was fully involved with fire.

Then Gray took his son Simon and exited the house through the garage. They were taken to St. Joseph Warren Hospital.

Warren firefighters knocked down the flames on the second floor and found the woman and her child dead in a bed in the northwest bedroom. The coroner’s office was notified.

According to the report, two cameras from the home show times between 2:45 and 3:16 a.m., with fire originating on the outside area of the patio and the sunroom. An examination of the exterior found fire damage to the outside walls of the family room as the fire extended into the eaves and roof area at the second-story level, the report states.

The sunroom’s exterior wall was consumed by fire and investigators found a wood pile on the patio with fire damage.

“The roof of the structure was consumed by fire and / or collapsed into the second floor of the structure,” Stitt wrote.

After investigating the sunroom, investigators found all four interior walls consumed by fire, including the wood-framed windows and patio door. An investigation of the patio found melted to the wood floor was the base of a blue plastic tote, with the wood flooring around the tote consumed by fire. An interview with Lee Gray revealed that ashes from the fireplace were in the blue tote as well as cigarette butts from guests at a New Year’s Eve party earlier in the evening.

“Examination of the wood decking showed a large portion of the decking consumed near and around the tote,” Stitt wrote.

Lee Gray told investigators they entertained people — including relatives — a few hours earlier celebrating the New Year, and several people may have dumped their cigarette ashes into the blue tote.

Stitt noted the case will remain open pending the complete autopsy report and further video data collected.


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