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6-year-old boy killed in Port Richey house fire

A fire that started after 11 p.m. Sunday at 10925 Bridleton Road in Port Richey killed 6-year-old Bryce Atkeson. Four other people, including two children, escaped. The blaze’s cause is under investigation.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

A fire that started after 11 p.m. Sunday at 10925 Bridleton Road in Port Richey killed 6-year-old Bryce Atkeson. Four other people, including two children, escaped. The blaze’s cause is under investigation.

PORT RICHEY — In his short life, Bryce Atkeson's family endured a flurry of hardships.

His brother died as an infant in 2002, a year before Bryce was born.

His father was sentenced to 15 months in an Orlando prison this year. He is scheduled for release next month.

Late Sunday, the first-grader at Gulf Highlands Elementary died of injuries suffered in a fire at his home, 10925 Bridleton Road in Holiday Hills Estates, just east of U.S. 19.

Investigators on Monday were trying to determine what caused the fire.

Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said Jason Atkeson, 29, was notified at the prison of his son's death.

The adult residents of the home — Michael Hatalski, 26, and Bryce's mother, Danielle Hopkins, 25 — were hospitalized. Doll said Hatalski suffered second-degree burns and Hopkins minor injuries.

Two other children — Bradley Hatalski, 2, and Bryant Atkeson, 5 — were not injured, Doll said.

Glenn Robbins, 56, lives across the street and saw smoke billowing above the treetops Sunday night.

"I said, 'I hope the kids got out in time,' " Robbins said.

The fire call came in at 11:15 p.m., and Assistant Chief Mike Ciccarello of Pasco County Fire Rescue said 25 fire officials responded to the scene. The fire was under control at 11:39 p.m., he said.

The home is owned by Michael Shemroske and Jerry Loftin of Lutz, property records show. Bryce and his family had lived there for about six months, Robbins said.

None of the adults who lived there was a stranger to the law.

Atkeson was sentenced to 15 months in prison on March 12 after he sold oxycodone last year to an undercover narcotics investigator from the Sheriff's Office.

Before his prison sentence, Atkeson had been charged with larceny and drug possession in 2002, records show.

Hatalski had been charged with driving under the influence in 2004 and aggravated battery in 2006 on Hopkins, who was pregnant at the time. He pleaded guilty of pushing Hopkins over a bed and onto the floor during an argument on his 23rd birthday, records show.

Hopkins was charged with marijuana possession in 2002 and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud in October, records show.

Bryce's brother, Blake Atkeson, died on May 30, 2002, a few weeks after his birth on May 7, according to an obituary in the Times.

A crisis intervention team on Monday helped Bryce's fellow students at Gulf Highlands Elementary, principal Margie Polen said.

Parents of children in Bryce's class were notified of his death, and his classmates were encouraged to express their feelings by making cards for the family, decorating them with flowers and hearts.

They wrote messages like "We will miss you," Polen said.

"We are trying to help the best we can for children who knew him and were friends of his," she said. "He was a wonderful little boy. We're sad, and we're going to miss him a lot."

On Monday afternoon, yellow crime scene tape still dangled from the burned home's mailbox. A toy basketball hoop stood in the driveway near three vehicles.

Toy cars — a red convertible and a burgundy pickup truck — sat at the edge of the garage, which appeared to be stuck open.

Robbins said the fire reminded him to check his smoke detector on Monday.

"It's such a tragedy," he said. "Six years old. He hadn't lived a life yet. It's terrible."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727)869-6236.

6-year-old boy killed in Port Richey house fire 11/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 12:20pm]

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