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Apartment blaze kills Dunedin man

A fire investigator removes electronics from an apartment Wednesday after a fire gutted unit No. 2 at 3067 Belcher Road in Dunedin, killing one. Fire Rescue Division Chief Bill McElligott said the apartment had no working smoke detectors.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

A fire investigator removes electronics from an apartment Wednesday after a fire gutted unit No. 2 at 3067 Belcher Road in Dunedin, killing one. Fire Rescue Division Chief Bill McElligott said the apartment had no working smoke detectors.

DUNEDIN — About a mile into their 3-mile walk early Wednesday, Keli and John Isett smelled smoke.

It was just before 5 a.m., and a little further on the Dunedin couple saw massive flames bursting from the window of an apartment at 3067 Belcher Road.

They didn't bring their cell phone along, but they had to do something.

So the couple — John, a commercial lender, and Keli, a transportation supervisor for Pinellas County schools — started banging on doors and windows.

People didn't open up at first, Keli Isett said. But finally a door opened. Seeing the fire, the resident handed the Isetts a phone to call 911.

Dunedin Fire Rescue arrived four minutes later. In the meantime, as neighbors drifted out of their apartments, they realized the man in apartment No. 2 was still inside.

John Isett kicked in the door but couldn't get inside the apartment because something was behind the door, he said.

Firefighters brought a water line into the house, according to Dunedin Fire Rescue Division Chief Bill McElligott, but didn't see the man immediately because there was so much clutter — TVs, computers, electronics, fish tanks, newspapers, driers, skateboards and bicycles, among other things — stacked 5 or 6 feet high.

Eventually they spotted a man lying in the back hallway. Rescue workers brought him outside and tried unsuccessfully to revive him.

Neighbors who saw the man removed from the apartment said they recognized him as their friend, 58-year-old Larry P. Leclair.

Fire investigators and arson detectives went through the apartment on Wednesday to try to determine the cause. McElligott said it was an accidental fire, likely with an electrical cause. To his knowledge — and that of neighbors — there were no working smoke detectors in the apartment.

Of the four apartments in the building, only Leclair's was seriously damaged. McElligott said that one of the apartments was vacant and the people in the other two apartments were able to get out without injury.

"You just don't expect something like that to happen when you're just innocently going out for a walk," Keli Isett said. "I would feel better if we would have been able to do something for the man who perished."

Leclair lived alone, neighbors and officials said.

According to his boss, he was an assistant to the manager at the nearby Sears store in the Westfield Countryside Mall. He specialized in home electronics and appliances.

"Larry was a solid associate, well-liked by everybody," said Dave Hanley, manager at the store. "We're all going to miss him. It is terrible and tragic."

"He was quiet and caring. He would give you the shirt off his back," said Steven O'Brien, who lives in apartment No. 3.

"He's never been depressed. I've never seen him have a bad day," added Maria Findlay, who lives with O'Brien.

Bill Dooley, 48, a neighbor in apartment No. 4, said Leclair often enjoyed long walks on the Dunedin Causeway and frequented thrift shops and swap meets on his days off.

Leclair tinkered with electronics and just the other day, he agreed to help Dooley with some soldering.

"I'm going to miss him. It's still a shock," Dooley said. "I talked to him every day."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Apartment blaze kills Dunedin man 07/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 8:30pm]
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