CLEVELAND — Cleveland arson investigators are still looking into the suspected meth lab fire that injured four people Wednesday afternoon, including three children, at a home in the Slavic Village neighborhood. However, information and records obtained by News 5 suggest the issues at the home came long before the fire.
A county spokesperson said the three children injured in the fire are safe and remain in protective foster care while the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is working to determine the appropriate family placement. Although the spokesperson said county officials cannot comment further on the case, citing an ongoing investigation, police records show authorities have been dispatched to the home in the 7200 block of Alice Avenue nearly a dozen times in less than a year. At least two of those calls for service involved DCFS caseworkers, according to police records.
Arson investigators returned to the home Thursday afternoon, spending more than an hour on the property. A Cleveland police spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing. The police spokesperson said Wednesday that witnesses reported hearing a loud ‘pop’ coming from the basement before an adult woman emerged on fire. Authorities suspect the fire was started by a meth lab.
"I was shocked but I wasn’t shocked,” said Carolyn Ballard, who lives next door to the home that caught fire. “It was shocking to know [police believe it was a meth lab] next to me and there were kids in there.”
Police said the three children, ages 13, 7 and 6, were taken to Metro Hospital.
“What word can I use for this? It’s sad. It’s worse than sad. Those kids could [have been killed],” said neighbor Alice Johnson.
Two people, whose identities are being withheld because they both fear potential retribution, now wonder if the fire could have been prevented. News 5 has been able to independently verify their accounts through police records and other witness statements. For clarity purposes, News 5 will refer to the two individuals as the ‘good Samaritans’ for the remainder of this article.
In mid-February, the good Samaritans were at the Steelyard Commons shopping complex when they noticed a young child who was woefully under-dressed for the bitterly cold, snow-filled forecast. The good Samaritans also reported that the child’s clothing was torn and her shoes were "falling apart.”
The good Samaritans said the child, who is now 13-years-old, was asking shoppers if the RTA bus was running that day, a Sunday.
“[The child] was freezing. [The child's] face was red. You could tell [the child] was about to get frostbite or hypothermia — one of the two. [The child] had nobody to call, no options,” the good Samaritans said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “[The child] was very skinny, clothes were tattered and torn. [The child] used [a] bike everywhere in the snow. Shoes were falling off.”
The good Samaritans eventually offered the child a ride home and the child agreed.
“[The child] was so dirty. The odor [the child] left behind in my car was in my car for almost a week.”
The good Samaritans said they returned the child home — at 7204 Alice Avenue. The good Samaritans maintained communication with the child in the several days that followed.
“At home, [the child] was the cleaner, babysitter. [The child] was the one that cooked, [the child] was the one that went to the store. [The child] was allowed to eat once a day,” the good samaritans said. “We knew something was going on and that’s why we made the call to the cops and [child protective services]. I don’t know how they could have missed it.”
According to police records, Cleveland police officers conducted a welfare check at the property on February 15. The disposition of the welfare check is unknown.
When the good Samaritans saw on the evening news that a suspected meth lab had started a fire at the same home where they had dropped the child off just a month-and-a-half earlier, they were appalled.
“I was blown away. It seemed surreal,” the good Samaritans said. “This can’t be real right now.”
According to records obtained by News 5, Cleveland police have been called to the home 11 times since April 2021. The nature of those emergency calls ranges from domestic violence to a threatening subject with a gun to multiple welfare checks.
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