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Rescuer is hailed after fire

Four-year-old Jonathan Morrison thinks his next-door neighbor is Superman _ and his mother agrees. "If it weren't for him, we would be dead," 22-year-old Elizabeth Morrison said Thursday.

The neighbor, Troy Jackson, woke up Ms. Morrison and her two young children early Thursday when their apartment at 1013 E Harrison St. caught fire.

Stranded on the second floor as fire destroyed the first, Ms. Morrison was forced to drop her children from a second-story window into the waiting arms of Jackson and another man, whose identity was not known. Then, she jumped, and the two men broke her fall.

The family was treated at Tampa General Hospital for smoke inhalation and released.

"Beth is a good friend of mine, but mainly it was the kids I was worried about," said Jackson, 26. "Really, I didn't think about it until afterward."

The apartment, part of Central Park Village public-housing complex, was heavily damaged. Firefighters could not determine the cause Thursday.

Ms. Morrison, Jonathan and 3-year-old Amber were asleep early Thursday in the back bedroom of their two-story apartment, unaware that flames were consuming the first floor and thick black smoke was filling the second.

Next door, Jackson and his girlfriend, Naomi Collins, were watching television. About 1:15 a.m. Jackson said he smelled something burning.

The smoke detector in his apartment at 1011 E Harrison went off, and Jackson ran outside. He found black smoke pouring from the Morrisons' apartment.

Jackson said he jumped up on a cement block fence and climbed onto a ledge that led to Ms. Morrison's second-floor bathroom window _ all the while yelling his neighbor's name.

"I heard her voice," said another neighbor, Angela Parks. "She was telling him to help her because she couldn't breathe."

Parks then ran to call the Fire Department.

Jackson used a broom handle to break the second-story bathroom window, but the bathroom was too hot, and the three could not escape that way.

Meanwhile, Ms. Morrison said she was frantically looking for her children. She found Jonathan and threw a blanket over him to protect him from the smoke. Amber was wedged between the bed and the wall.

From her bedroom window, she dropped the children.

"Jonathan, she threw first, and then Amber came right behind," Jackson said.

The drop was about 18 feet.

"Beth didn't want to jump, but she had to because the smoke was so thick you couldn't see a thing."

Firefighters arrived at the scene within minutes and extinguished the fire by 1:30 a.m., Division Chief Matt Ballaban said.

Central Park Village Apartment manager Roger Sheppard said the apartments were inspected in early October, and no fire code violations were found. He said all the smoke detectors were working.

But Ms. Morrison, a nursing student at Erwin Vo-Tech, says she does not think her smoke alarm went off because it has been broken for some time. She said she never asked the Housing Authority to fix it.

"I never thought something like this would happen," she said.

Ms. Morrison said she was planning to spend Thursday night at her mother's home in Gibsonton and then return to another apartment at Central Park Village.