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Mother, toddler escape as fire engulfs Clearwater home

CLEARWATER — Lashawnda George leaned against a friend's car Wednesday afternoon and patiently answered her daughter's questions.

The little girl had a lot of them.

"What's wrong with the car, mommy?" 2-year-old Hermecia asked, pointing to a green Buick sedan with a charred body. "What happened to my room? Where is my pool?"

The toddler glanced at a lump of twisted plastic in the front yard. It was melted.

"What's wrong with my slide?"

George sighed and shook her head.

"It's all gone in the fire," she said, wrapping her arms around her daughter, who asked a final question: Why?

"I don't know why," George said quietly.

Investigators are trying to figure out what caused a massive blaze about 2 a.m. Wednesday at the 25-year-old woman's two-bedroom home at 1127 Tangerine St.

George and her daughter escaped by shattering and climbing through a window.

They were asleep when George rolled over and heard a crackling noise. She looked at the porch, saw fire and then ran to her daughter's room.

"(I) grabbed her, busted out the window, put her outside, then I crawled out … and we jumped over the fence and ran across the street," she said.

Not long after they escaped the home, it was engulfed in flames, George said.

By the time firefighters arrived, flames and smoke had overtaken the house and could be seen emanating from the front of the structure, officials said.

"My neighbors were freaking out," George said. "They were outside yelling to see if anybody was in the house."

It took fire crews about 10 minutes to get the blaze under control, officials said.

One rescue vehicle on its way to the scene had to take a detour, however, after someone struck it with an object.

Clearwater fire Lt. Anthony Sammartano said he saw a man, identified as David Petrou, step off the curb on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and throw what appeared to be a rock at the windshield. No one was injured and the rescue vehicle wasn't damaged.

Sammartano followed the man until officers arrived. Petrou, a 38-year-old transient, was arrested on a charge of throwing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle.

Officials said Petrou also is a suspect in a Feb. 3 incident where someone threw a chunk of concrete and shattered the windshield of a different fire rescue vehicle. No one was injured in that incident.

Petrou remained in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.

Investigators said the home suffered about $8,000 in damages and is considered a loss. The Red Cross is providing assistance.

George is a certified nursing assistant at Clearwater Center. She also is in her third semester at Springfield College in Tampa, where she's studying human services.

She has lived at the tiny green bungalow for five years. Her mom, who owns the house, set the rent at a rate that allowed George to go to school and work.

George isn't sure what she'll do now. She said she'll stay with relatives for now but will have to start looking for an apartment soon.

She has class this weekend, but her laptop and all her school books were destroyed in the fire.

Still, she's trying to remain positive.

After firefighters left, she was able to sift through the rubble and save a few things: a couple of baby pictures, a vacuum cleaner and an unopened play kitchen that she plans to put together for her daughter.

"Right now I'm trying to endure," she said. "This is just another chapter in my life. Another door is going to open. Hopefully, it will lead to a blessing."

Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

Mother, toddler escape as fire engulfs Clearwater home 03/14/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 7:33pm]
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