Man killed in Cedar Rapids house fire

Woman escapes with assistance from neighbor

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Alize Watson and Naquave Whitlock had planned to leave their Cedar Rapids home for Texas this January.

Tragically, their plans for the future were destroyed Tuesday morning when a fire broke out in their home, 611 A Ave. NW, killing Whitlock.

“I’ll have to start over,” Watson said Tuesday afternoon.

Watson, 20, a certified nurse assistant, said she woke up Tuesday morning to a smoke-filled bedroom around 2 a.m.

“I woke up and I couldn’t breathe,” she said.

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said smoke alarms in the home were off their bases and did not appear to be operable.

“Smoke alarms increase your odds of being alerted when there’s a fire, giving you those precious seconds or minutes to get out,” he said.

Watson said she pushed the air conditioning unit out the second floor window and stuck her head out for air. When that wasn’t enough, she climbed out on to the roof and started to scream. From outside, she could hear Whitlock.

“I heard him yelling from inside,” she said. “I tried to go back in, but it was too hot. It was real, real hot.”

So, Watson screamed for help. A neighbor rushed across the street, propped a ladder against the house and allowed her to escape. Within a few minutes, Cedar Rapids firefighters and Area Ambulance had arrived on the scene, Watson said.

According to fire department officials, fire was coming from the side and rear of the two-story, single-family residence when they arrived. Firefighters knocked down the exterior fire, allowing them to enter the home. They went up to the second floor and found Whitlock in a bedroom. Whitlock was taken from the home and transported to St. Luke’s, where he was pronounced dead.

Watson was also transported to St. Luke’s. She said she did not get an opportunity to talk to Whitlock before he died.

Watson said she had been living in the home since February 2014. Whitlock, 22, moved in with her this year. The two met through mutual friends in Chicago, she said.

“He was outgoing,” she said. “Very lovable. Smart.”

Watson said Whitlock was also a National Guard veteran. The couple enjoyed playing video games together, watching Chicago Bulls games and working out. He wanted to move to Texas in January and Watson said she was eager to join him.

Watson said she has been able to get back into the badly damaged home to get some clothes and her cellphone, as well as some jewelry that Whitlock bought her. She’s been given information by the American Red Cross and is planning her next steps, she said.

Investigators said the fire started by a frying pot with grease that had been left unattended. The fire was determined to be unintentional, fire department officials said.

According to data provided by the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, Cedar Rapids has had 10 fire-related fatalities since 2006. One involved a vehicle. Of the other nine deaths, five happened in residences without smoke alarms, including a Cedar Rapids couple — Ronald and Karen Jacobs — who died from injuries suffered when their mobile home caught fire Feb. 15.

Buelow said approximately three out of 10 fires are related to cooking.

Whitlock’s death marks the fourth fire death in the city this year, authorities said. That includes the death of Robyn Furmanski, who was pulled from a burning condominium in March and later died. Autopsy findings from the State Medical Examiner’s Office showed Furmanski, 62, “may have sustained a traumatic injury prior to the fire.” police have said.

Onyale V. Hughes, 43, is facing charges of first-degree murder, first-degree arson and first-degree robbery in her death.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Location of fatal fire

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