Crews search for cause of house fire that killed 58-year-old wheelchair bound man

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INDIANAPOLIS -- A 58-year-old man, who Indianapolis fire investigators say was wheelchair-bound, died in a house fire early Wednesday. A 63-year-old woman was transported to Eskenazi Hospital in critical condition, according to authorities on the scene.

That man has now been identified as Roderick Smiley, 58. Smiley was wheelchair bound and unable to get around on his own.

“He was a very loving man. He was very good to me,” said his caretaker Jackie Johnson.

The fire erupted in the 1200 block of Vandeman St., which is near the Fountain Square district. IFD crews were dispatched just after 1 a.m.

Johnson was on her way to help Ricky get ready for his friends funeral when she saw heavy smoke.

“When I was coming up the street this morning it looked like I was in the twilight zone and I was like what is going on?,” said Johnson.

Then she found out the man she was there to help was already gone.

“I looked at the house and they told me Rick is dead,” said Johnson.

IFD tells us the fire started just after 1:00 a.m. and overtook the house in minutes. Ricky died in the fire. His girlfriend was rushed to the hospital.

“This is a tragedy. Everyone in the family is impacted in different ways,” said IFD Chaplain Pastor Joe Thornton.

Family members say Ricky used a space heater to keep warm in his often drafty home.

“A lot of people fail to realize that there are a lot of people who are living with less,” said Chaplain Thornton.

"When firefighters got here, there was heavy fire showing from the structure command ordered a defensive operation immediately," said Rita Reith with IFD. "However, several firefighters had already made their way into the structure and were able to pull out the first victim, which was a female, then the second victim."

IFD ordered the structure evacuated at 1:22 a.m. They had the fire under control by about 2:30 a.m.

"Family is here on scene and they tell us the man has lived here his whole life--that the woman who was inside was his girlfriend," said Reith. "Firefighters were very familiar with the house--they come here quite a bit, they come here frequently on EMS runs. The man is wheelchair-bound, so they come here quite a bit and they knew prior to getting on scene the layout of the structure of the house."

According to family members, there were working space heaters inside the structure. They will be a part of what investigators look for as they look for a cause. IFD said the home didn't have any working smoke detectors.

The department said there have been 22 working structure fires this month, including four fires at vacant homes. In November, IFD responded to 61 working structure fires, with 29 of those involving vacant homes.

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