PORT RICHEY — Michael Copeland shivered in the morning cold as firefighters swarmed outside his apartment. He had escaped flames with only the clothes on his back.
His neighbor was not so fortunate.
"They said he was dead,'' said Copeland, 19.
Shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday, Copeland smelled smoke and thought it was coming from his bathroom in the small unit at the Ridge Garden Apartments at 6715 Deeb St., just off Ridge Road. He opened the window.
"There was a huge wall of smoke," Copeland said. "It was covering the entire complex. You could hardly see anything."
He raced outside and called 911. "Everybody else was calling, too,'' he said.
Pasco Fire Rescue authorities said only that a man died in the fire and a resident of an adjoining unit was treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation. No additional information was given.
Copeland and Torrey Delatejera, who lives in the apartment directly below the unit that burned, said the victim was a mentally disabled man they identified only as "Kevin.'' They said his apartment was full of clutter and that he was a heavy smoker.
Delatejera, 33, said he was asleep with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old son when firefighters arrived. "The loud noise woke me up,'' he said. "I thought Kevin was moving stuff around upstairs, or that maybe they were working on the pipes.''
He said the man upstairs regularly allowed his bathtub to overflow and water had ruined the ceiling in his apartment.
"I haven't had a chance to see the damage to our apartment,'' he said.
Copeland said he paid $450 a month for his apartment and had been there six months. He expects he lost most of his belongings.
"They kicked my door open and started spraying water," he said of the firefighters.