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Investigator: Unattended cooking cause of Akron house fire that killed four

Posted: 8:28 AM, Jan 19, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-20 06:20:33-05

Akron fire investigators said the cause of the fire that killed a family of four late last year was caused by unattended cooking.  

"Inspection of the interior revealed heavy damage to the first-floor kitchen area at and near the gas stove," according to a news release by the Akron City Fire Department, citing the results of the investigation. "The knobs of the stove were completely burned off, and evidence shows one burner was in the 'on' position."

The fire broke out Dec. 3, 2016, a Saturday, around 1:30 a.m. at a home in the 200 block of East Tallmadge Avenue.

A neighbor's security camera captured the fire from across the street. The video appears to show the flames shooting from the back of the home. The video showed firefighters arriving about 1:37 a.m.

Shirley Wallis, 33, her boyfriend, Omar Riley, 36,  and their two daughters, Shanice Riley, 8, and Aniyla Riley, 9, died as a result of the blaze. A 12-year-old girl was hospitalized. Another woman living there, Jen Grubbs, escaped from an attic and survived.

Akron Fire Chief Clarence Tucker said the department will not pursue criminal charges or citations against the landlord. The department investigated possible charges because a city ordinance requires landlords to install working smoke detectors in properties.

Firefighters did not see any smoke detectors after the fire was put out. However, in a prepared statement, city officials said they were unable to "conclusively determine" whether smoke alarms  were present.

Investigators said flames traveled upward in a chimney, reaching the second floor. An occupant in the attic, Grubbs, said after smelling smoke, she went to the second-floor landing, opened the door and was overwhelmed with smoke. She ran up the stairs and to get away from the fire and was able to escape through a window, the news release said. 

Grubbs was later treated at a local hospital. 

A wrongful death lawsuit seeking $25 million has been filed against the landlord on behalf of the Riley estate.

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