Coroner: Cigarette not cause of fatal fire

Photos by Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Blake Voges, left, comforted his fiancée, Allison Hunter, both members of the Santa Claus Volunteer Fire Department, as Bob Duley with Carter EMS stood by after finding Bryan Gregory’s body in his home that caught fire in Christmas Lake Village in Santa Claus this morning. Bryan’s wife Maureen made it out safely. Both Santa Claus and the Carter Fire District departments were on scene. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

(UPDATED 4/22/14)

By JONATHAN STREETMAN
Herald Staff Writer

SANTA CLAUS — The fire that killed a Santa Claus resident and sent his wife to the hospital Friday is no longer believed to have been started by a dropped cigarette.

Maureen Gregory, 66, told investigators shortly after being rescued from the home at 911 S. Snowball Lane that she had dropped the cigarette and was unable to pick it up before fleeing the home. Her husband, Bryan Gregory, 65, was unable to exit the home because of smoke inhalation. He died.

After further investigation, Spencer County Coroner Robert Fuller said Tuesday afternoon that the fire began in the attic of the home and worked its way downward.

“When you look at the evidence in the structure, there’s more evidence of the fire starting above,” said Fuller, noting a dropped cigarette would not have been able to cause the amount of damage seen in the home. “It takes quite a bit to get a fire like that going.”

Fuller said he and an investigator with an insurance company agreed the cause was likely an electrical fire that began pouring in smoke from above.

“We know it wasn’t set (intentionally). It also wasn’t right next to where she was, or else she would have had worse then first-degree burns on her face,” Fuller said.

Fuller said studs in the walls were charred at the top and not at ground level, another indicator the fire moved from top to bottom.

By the time Maureen Gregory was able to exit the home, only black smoke — and no flames — were coming from the structure, Fuller said. The roof collapsed only moments later.

Maureen Gregory was transported via LifeFlight to University of Louisville Hospital. The retired English professor at Vincennes University Jasper Campus is recovering quickly, Fuller said Tuesday.

“She’s doing a lot better. She’s up and moving around,” he said.


(PREVIOUSLY 4/18/14)

By BILL POWELL
Herald Staff Writer

SANTA CLAUS — A retired English professor at Vincennes University Jasper Campus was airlifted and her husband, an active member of Santa Claus American Legion Post No. 242, was reported deceased in a fire this morning at their home in Santa Claus.

Maureen Gregory, a former professor of English and chair of VUJC’s Humanities and Social Science Department who served as interim dean in 2005 and 2006, was LifeFlighted to a Louisville hospital after having suffered from smoke inhalation and first degree burns. She is presently listed in stable condition.

Cheryl Greenwell, left, Patsy Benge and Elizabeth Ferguson, all residents of Christmas Lake Village in Santa Claus, reacted at the scene where their friend and neighbor, Bryan Gregory, was found after his home caught fire this morning. Bryan's wife, Maureen, made it out safely. Both Santa Claus and the Carter Fire District departments were on scene.

One source at the scene said Maureen Gregory had been assisted from the burning home by a female neighbor or passerby.

The body of a male occupant recovered at the fire scene at 911 S. Snowball Lane was identified as Bryan Gregory, 65, who operated a landscaping and gardening business.

The Gregorys’ large brick home in the Christmas Lake Village subdivision was fully involved when units of the Santa Claus and Carter Fire District volunteer departments arrived. Santa Claus Fire Chief Max Meyer said the home was effectively gutted.

Investigators from the Indiana Fire Marshall’s Office believe the fire was started accidently in the living room. According to Maureen Gregory, she had dropped a cigarette in the living room and was unable to pick it back up before the fire began. Investigators said Bryan Gregory attempted to exit the residence but passed out due to smoke inhalation prior to exiting. The fire marshall’s office has ruled the fire as accidental.

The Santa Claus and Carter Fire District departments were on scene of a home that caught fire in Christmas Lake Village in Santa Claus this morning. Resident Bryan Gregory's body was found inside. His wife, Maureen, made it out safely.

Angela DeVore, a spokeswoman at Santa Claus Legion Post No. 242, said Bryan Gregory was born and raised in Martin County. He moved his Legion membership to Santa Claus about nine years ago and had been serving as adjutant to the post’s Sons of the American Legion chapter.

“He was such a big part of this town and he was so hyper and full of life,” said neighbor and friend Rhonda Hunter of Bryan Gregory. “I can’t believe he did not get up and bounce out. He loved Maureen so much.”

The Indiana State Police, Santa Claus Police, Spencer County Coroner’s Office, Indiana State Fire Marshall’s Office, and Spencer County EMS assisted the Santa Claus and Carter Township Fire Departments on scene.

Contact Bill Powell at bpowell@dcherald.com.




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