House fire’s cause suspicious, may be connected to burglary

Salvation Army seeks money, clothes for family

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Apr. 18, 2007 - A fire which destroyed a Ridgeway residence is being treated as suspicious in nature, according to Andy Chester, chief investigator for Hopkins County Sheriff's Office. No one was injured in the blaze.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Hopkins County Fire Investigator Steve Caudle investigates what is left of a house Wednesday morning after it burned Tuesday on State Highway 11 west, near County Road 4710.

The fire at 5935 State Highway 11 west, located near County Road 4710, was reported at 1:49 p.m. Tuesday. Cumby, Hopkins County, Arbala and North Hopkins firefighters, along with sheriff's deputies, were dispatched to the location. Authorities remained on scene until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

All seven residents were away from home at the time of the fire. Jennifer Draper was said to have been at the home about 15 minutes prior to the first report of the blaze, while her husband, Matt, and father-in-law, Gary, were said to be out of state on vacation. Jennifer and Matt's two oldest children, 10-year-old Gary and 5-year-old James, were at school, and their 15-month-old twins, Sara and Craig, were with family, a family member told Hopkins County Salvation Army Chairman Jo Marie Neal.

Hopkins County Fire Investigator Steve Caudle worked Tuesday to try and definitively determine the cause of the blaze, which decimated the home, Chester said.

Sheriff's investigators are also looking into the incident as the fire could be connected to what is thought to be a burglary at the home just prior to the fire. The family's white Mazda minivan was located at 2 p.m. in a ditch on County Road 4711, about a mile from the burning home. The abandoned van contained jewelry, a computer, and PlayStation 2 and Game Cube systems and games.

Chester said the home appeared to have been broken into and the van taken 30-45 minutes prior to the fire being reported by a neighbor. 

"If anyone in the area remembers seeing a white Mazda around 1 to 1:30 yesterday afternoon, we'd appreciate  a call," Chester said. "If someone was seen occupying it, or leaning on it or walking away from it or near it, if they'd call me at 903-438-4040, it'd be appreciated."

The Draper home was insured, but the family lost all of their possessions. Jennifer Draper and all four children stayed with a family member last night, and Hopkins County Salvation Army took them clothing. With Matt Draper and his father Gary due home later today, and HCSA anticipates helping put the family in a motel for the next day or two as the family member will not be able to accommodate so many extra people, Neal said. 

Salvation Army will continue to accept monetary and clothing donations to assist the family at the program headquarters inside The Bait Shop, 1702 South Broadway St., or by calling Neal at 903-885-9858 or 903-335-1032.

Needed are women's size 10-12 pants, medium shirt and size 10 shoes; men's 42x34 pants, 34x32 pants and 30x30 pants; men's extra large, large and small shirts; men's size 13 and 8 shoes; boys size large and shirts, 14 husky pants, 5-6 pants; boy infant/toddlers size 12 month clothing, size 4 diapers and 5 wide shoes; and girl infant/toddler size 6-9 month clothing, size 3 diaper and size 3 shoes.

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