3-year-old knows his little brother is gone after fire

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 18, 2011

By Shelley Smith
EAST SPENCER — Three-year-old Zachary Doolittle survived an early Friday morning fire without a scratch, but his 10-week-old brother, Jacob, was killed.
His parents, Joey and Samantha Doolittle, were being treated at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center for severe burns.
By Friday night, the smoke had settled at the 310 E. Henderson St. home, and relatives taking care of Zachary said he was running around enjoying the sunshine that afternoon while his parents received treatment at Baptist.
But they said he vividly remembers the events from earlier in the morning. “When he woke up (from his nap) he said, ‘My buddy’s gone,’ ” said Keith Ferrell, a cousin of the Doolittles. “He said just a while ago, out of nowhere, ‘My daddy said help, help, help.’
“He knows exactly what happened. He knows it wasn’t a dream.”
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Joey Dolittle ran to his neighboring cousin’s house just before 5 a.m. Friday, screaming that his house was on fire and his baby was inside and he couldn’t get him out, Beth McBryde said.
“We were sleeping and all of a sudden Joey came running through the house,” she said. “We came straight down (to the house).
“Both of them (Joey and Samantha) were trying their best to get their son out. Both of them was burnt, their hair was singed.”
An in-law, Tammy Jo McBryde, said Joey’s face and hands looked like they were melting.
Beth McBryde said her son and husband tried to go into the house, but a huge fireball came at them when they opened the front door.
One window to the bedroom was the only hope for getting Jacob out of the house.
“We tried to go through a window, we tried everything,” she said. “We just couldn’t get in there.”
McBryde said a motor was thrown at the window, which broke the glass, but no one could fit through the small space.
“We just couldn’t get in there,” McBryde said. “It’s just a bad thing that happened.”
McBryde said East Spencer Police were the first on the scene, arriving within four minutes of her call to 911.
She said the East Spencer Fire Department didn’t arrive until 23 minutes after the call.
Rowan County Fire Marshal Tom Murphy said he thinks East Spencer’s response time was more in the range of six minutes, and that Spencer Fire Department was actually the first to arrive with firefighters.
Other departments responding included Union, Miller’s Ferry and Salisbury, as well as Rowan County Rescue, Rowan EMS, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and the East Spencer Fire Department. The State Bureau of Investigation was also called to the scene.
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The fire is believed to have started near Zachary’s bed, and is thought to have been caused by electrical wiring, the fire marshal’s office said.
And Zachary is very lucky — he fell asleep in the living room Thursday night, McBryde said, avoiding injury or smoke inhalation.
The family’s dog, Socks, also perished in the fire.
“He (Joey) said he has no clue what happened,” she said. “He said he woke up, smelling smoke. … He knew that he just had to get his family out and he was doing the best that he could.”
McBryde said Joey grabbed Zachary from the living room and ran out the back door. When he got outside, she said he realized his wife didn’t have Jacob, and they panicked.
“They both assumed the other got the baby,” she said.
When firefighters extinguished all of the flames and hot spots, investigators were able to go into the front bedroom — where the entire family slept.
Fire investigators Deborah Horne and Aaron Youngblood handed other firefighters materials to be placed on a tarp in the front yard, including charred books, toys, pieces of Zachary’s bed and Jacob’s crib.
When they found Jacob, he was still in his crib, his clothes intact. Horne said Jacob likely died from smoke inhalation, and was never burned.
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Relatives said Joey Doolittle recently lost his job in Albemarle and decided to move to Salisbury to give his family a fresh start in a new town.
He was working with McBryde’s husband and had only been living in his rented East Henderson Street home for about a month. He had also bought a car several weeks ago.
But the house, all of the family’s belongings and the family’s only form of transportation are now among the ashes.
Once he and Samantha are released from the hospital, they will have to start over again, and try to get used to life without Jacob.
“I just want people to give us prayer ’cause (Joey) and his wife are gonna need a lot of prayer, ’cause the hardest thing to lose is a child, especially one as small and precious as Jacob,” McBryde said.
The Doolittles have a lot of family members and friends in Salisbury, Kannapolis, Concord, all close by, McBryde said.
“We’re here for them,” McBryde said.
The Elizabeth Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross is assisting the Doolittle family. If you would like to give clothing, food or a monetary donation, contact the Red Cross at 704-633-3854.
Jerry Nesbitt, who rented the home to the family, was not available for comment.