By Kirsten Crow Tribune-Herald staff writer
Saturday May 28, 2011
Six months after a fire killed twin 2-year-old boys Thanksgiving night, the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office is preparing a case for review by the district attorney.
A medical examiner ruled the deaths were accidental. No charges have been filed and sheriff’s officials did not speculate what potential charges could be pursued, saying it would be up to the grand jury and the Coryell County district attorney to decide.
Authorities are waiting for the results of an investigation by the Texas Rangers before turning over the case, Sheriff Johnny Burks said.
An investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, meanwhile, has concluded.
After examining the evidence, the investigator said the fire is thought to have ignited in the area where the heater was located, judging by debris that included pieces of the 18,000 BTU butane space heater. A flat-screen television near the heater also was destroyed, according to the report.
The investigator noted that the storage building, which was converted into a two-room living quarter, was lacking smoke or fire detectors, and that the heater was likely too large to safely use in the small space.
One room was described as 8-by-11 feet; the other was 8-by-8 feet.
Local firefighters also thought that the fire late Nov. 25, 2010, may have been sparked by a butane heater. At the time of the blaze, Crystal Lee Coleman, then 22, was staying with her boyfriend, 31-year-old Lloyd Fulfer, and her twin boys, Trevor Ray Coleman and Leland Nolan Coleman, in the building.
It was a temporary arrangment that Fulfer’s parents, Clifford and Virginia Cornett, had agreed to while Fulfer and the Colemans waited for the house they had rented to become available, according to the report.
The building was located close to a mobile home also owned by the Cornetts, in the 400 block of Star Lane, in a rural area of Coryell County.
Coleman and her sons spent Thanksgiving Day at the mobile home with her boyfriend and his family, she told authorities.
After dinner, she took the twins out to the building and put them to bed, then returned to the Cornetts’ mobile home, according to the documents. The space heater was on when she left the building, Coleman told investigators.
“According to Crystal, she finished her shower and was talking to Mr. and Mrs. Cornett when she heard a noise that drew her attention to the involved structure,” states the report. “She indicated that when she looked outside, the building was burning intensely.”
A caller reported the fire at 10 p.m.
Gatesville volunteer firefighters, based 16 miles away, responded to the scene, along with Coryell County sheriff’s deputies, but the building was fully engulfed in flames when they arrived, officials said.
After extinguishing the blaze, officials found the children inside, still on the air mattress where their mother had put them to bed, according to the report.
They were five days shy of their third birthdays.
Trevor and Leland Coleman were burned beyond recognition, according to the report. An autopsy later determined they had died of thermal burns and smoke inhalation.
The manner of death has been ruled as accidental.
Authorities also reported that Crystal Coleman incurred injuries while trying to pull off the siding of the building in an attempt to save her children.
Officials remained on the scene nearly all the next day, sifting through the evidence.
The deputy fire marshal noted in his report that an “external examination showed that the entire structure had been consumed, with only a portion of the floor and several wall studs remaining.”
Investigators brought in an accelerant-sniffing dog to check for evidence of arson. The canine did not alert officials to any accelerants, and samples sent to the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab found no evidence of ignitable fluids, according to the documents.
The investigator wrote in his report that the heater could have posed a safety issue.
“The combination of the small space within the building and the amount of personal effects for the four of them would make it very difficult to provide a safe zone around a heater of this size,” the report states.
The investigator also noted that there “were no fire or smoke detection devices in the structure and the age of the victims would have prevented them from being able to respond adequately to exit the structure.
“The area of origin for the fire would have also blocked the only exit and made it impossible for them to exit.”
The day after the fatal blaze, Sheriff Johnny Burks decribed the situation as sad, saying he wasn’t sure whether his office would pursue charges.
“It’s a tragic loss and it depends on the investigation and what we determine,” Burks said. “It’s hard to punish someone going through something like this.”
Officials at the scene the day after the fire said family members had declined interview requests. A phone message left with the family Friday was not immediately returned.