A high school football player says he dragged or carried 10 people to safety when fire raced through a wooden boarding house for the elderly and infirm, killing four residents.
Shawn Bates, 16, said he ran from room to room to evacuate the home early Wednesday but was unable to reach the last four people. "I thank God for the people I got out and I wish I could have done more for the other people," he said.The fire at the one-story home was reported at 2:30 a.m., said fire Capt. Richard Davis.
When firefighters arrived, Bates already had rescued 10 of the 15 residents and one woman had escaped on her own. "Of the four fatalities, two were in wheelchairs and all four were invalids," Davis said.
One of the dead, William C. Bigham, 31, had been badly burned in a mission fire in Chicago five years ago and "made me promise if there ever was a fire there, I would get him out. But I couldn't get him out," Bates said.
Bates said he used to carry Bigham, who suffered from cerebral palsy, wherever he needed to go. The two often watched television together and talked about hunting and fishing.
"I kind of thought I let him down," Bates said. "I believe now he understands. He knows I would have gotten to him if I could have."
Bates said he was sleeping in the boarding house while visiting his mother, who operates the home and lives next door.
He said he was awakened by a fire alarm and when he ran out of his room he found the fire had been started by an elderly man smoking on a couch. Bates said the man fought with him, but he managed to drag him from the building.
Bates was treated for smoke inhalation at Bessemer Carraway Hospital.