The Levittown man had just lifted the disabled woman into bed. Disabled himself, he could not save her life.
Friday, December 1, 2000
By Richard V. Sabatini
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
BRISTOL TOWNSHIP - A disabled Levittown woman whose husband, himself disabled, struggled vainly to drag her on a blanket from their burning bedroom, died early yesterday in a house fire.
Janice St. Clair, 50, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and who last year received a degree in elementary education, suffered extensive burns and was pronounced dead at the scene. Her husband, Frank St. Clair, 74, who has emphysema and a heart ailment, was hospitalized in critical condition with burns and smoke inhalation.
Frank St. Clair told police that he had just transferred his wife from her wheelchair into bed, using a hand lift, when he smelled smoke in the room shortly after 1 a.m.
Detective Sgt. Charles McGuigan said St. Clair grabbed a fire extinguisher, but the equipment did not work. He then managed to get his wife onto a blanket on the floor in an attempt to pull her to safety, but stopped and ran into the kitchen to call 911 first. Flames had engulfed the bedroom by the time he returned.
Burned on his face and hands as he tried to re-enter the room, St. Clair fled the one-story home in the 200 block of Magnolia Drive, McGuigan said. He tried to return but was restrained by police and firefighters.
He was admitted to the Burn Center of St. Agnes Medical Center, Philadelphia, where he was listed in critical condition, suffering from second-degree burns and smoke inhalation.
Falls Police Officer James Ryan and firefighter Brian White, who lives nearby, were the first rescuers on the scene and tried to enter the bedroom but could not get past the heavy flames, police said. Both were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.
Janice St. Clair's body was found on the floor of the bedroom, according to Bristol Township Public Safety Director Dan Bogan, who is also fire marshal. An autopsy was to be performed yesterday by Montgomery County Coroner Halbert Fillinger.
Bogan said the cause of the fire was not known but he was investigating the possibility of an electrical malfunction in the bedroom. The house was heavily damaged. Fire marshals from Bucks County and the state police are assisting in the investigation, Bogan said.
Neighbors spoke yesterday about the St. Clairs, their four dogs, and how they managed life despite their handicaps. They said Janice St. Clair was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 18.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Crystal Applegate, 18, of Bensalem, a home health-care worker who cared daily for Janice St. Clair, drove up to the home, accompanied by her mother, Jackie Applegate, 34, with whom she lives.
"Oh my God, what happened here?" Jackie Applegate asked. Learning that Janice St. Clair had died in the fire, the Applegates collapsed into each other's arm.
"We were going to put up the Christmas tree today," Crystal Applegate said, choking back tears. She said she had cared for Janice St. Clair almost daily for five months. "She was a wonderful person and always wanted to do for others, not herself," the younger Applegate said.
Richard V. Sabatini's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2000 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.