Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — The funerals of two sisters who died Wednesday went on as scheduled Saturday despite the four-alarm blaze that destroyed Lyerly Funeral Home.
The bodies of Effie Leazer Stiller, 91, and Marie Leazer Miller, 84, were inside the funeral home when the fire began Friday.
The bodies were placed in new caskets after being recovered from the debris.
Stiller’s funeral, originally set to take place at Lyerly, was moved to the chapel at Rowan Memorial Park, said Sondra Stiller, Effie’s daughter-in-law. Beulah Land Baptist Church hosted Miller’s services as planned.
Sondra Stiller said Brent Lyerly, president of the funeral home, called her family Saturday morning to let them know he would do “everything in his power” to make sure the funerals went off as scheduled without a hitch.
“We were surprised, but he said he would make it happen, so we just decided to go for it,” Sondra Stiller said.
A “big crowd” turned out for both funerals, Sondra Stiller said.
“It was beautiful and everything went real smooth,” she said. “We even had some flowers … it was real nice.”
Sondra Stiller said this week has felt like a “bad dream” with the sisters dying Wednesday about 20 hours apart and the fire at the funeral home Friday.
But the funerals provided some solace.
“I think it made it easier on the family to be able to put them to rest,” she said.
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An antique car, believed to be destroyed by flames, was salvaged from the debris Saturday.
“That is the first vehicle the funeral home bought new in 1959 after we opened in 1957,” Lyerly said. “It’s been taken to storage until we are back up and running.”
But Lyerly was quick to point out the 1959 Ford panel truck was simply that, a vehicle.
“That’s a material thing so it’s irrelevant, he said.
Lyerly said he plans to continue business as usual, likely working out of the funeral home’s untouched crematorium that sits yards away from the charred main building.
“The phones have been forwarded to our answering service,” he said. “We’re still in operation, I want to assure everybody that we are going to service their needs.”
Lyerly plans to rebuild the funeral home that his father, James C. Lyerly, organized after buying Peeler Funeral Home in 1957. About 15 people worked there.
“We’re going to get through all this and once we do we’ll be better and stronger,” he said.
Judy Page, a family friend, said it was hard to watch the funeral home that handled services for her father, grandparents and uncles go up in flames, but she’s glad the Lyerly wants to rebuild.
“It hurts to see it gone, but I’m glad everybody got out,” she said. “I just feel for them, they were family to us in our hour of need, they cared.”
Since news of the fire got out, Lyerly has received calls from funeral homes all over the southeast offering their assistance.
“I feel fortunate, all the support has been overwhelming,” he said. “We’ve been blessed by so many people, we can’t thank them enough.”
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The investigation into the cause of the fire will resume Monday, according to Salisbury Fire Battalion Chief David Morris.
“We’ve determined through an analysis of the structural integrity of the building that we’re going to need some additional resources and heavy equipment to assist us further,” he said.
Morris said investigators need to ensure that the building is safe and structurally sound before proceeding.
The site has been secured and a police or fire presence will remain there until the investigation picks up, Morris said.
The State Bureau of Investigation’s Arson Investigation unit is working with the Rowan County Fire Marshal’s office and Salisbury Police Department on the investigation.
“It’s normal for the SBI to be called in on a commercial building fire of this size; it’s part of our procedure,” Morris said.
There is no indication of foul play, Morris said.
“Everything points to accidental,” he said.
Lyerly said Friday that the fire began shortly after he turned on the heating system inside the building.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.