Brother of boy who died in Austin fire: ‘I tried to go back and get him’

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Fourteen-year-old Donte Benamon said he told his little brother to stay away from the stove twice Friday – the night the family’s South Austin home caught fire.

But 3-year-old Jaantwiaon Edwards went back a third time to cook himself some food, Benamon said, which he believes led to the fire that eventually engulfed the brick, two-flat at 151 North Laramie Avenue, as well as the home next store, in flames.

Donte was able to run out the door, but smoke stopped him from getting to his younger brother who was still inside the home, he said. Jaantwiaon was later pronounced dead at Loretto Hospital.

“I tried to go back and get him. It was a lot of smoke,” Donte said as tears streamed down his face Saturday morning outside the charred home. “He was a good little brother.”

Along with Jaantwiaon, Donte said the fire sent his 4-year-old brother Devon, who friends said was disabled and could not walk, to the hospital.

Two others, including a police officer, were hospitalized in the fire, which broke out about 8 p.m., according to police and fire officials.

The 40-year-old female officer suffered smoke inhalation after helping to save a 56-year-old woman from one of the homes, said Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Jose Estrada. The officer was treated and later released from West Suburban Medical Center.

The 56-year-old woman and the 4-year-old boy were also taken to West Suburban, Estrada said. The woman’s condition had stabilized Saturday, but the boy was transferred to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood where he remained in critical condition, Estrada said.

Tevin Wilkins, 21, happened to be walking a friend home around the time the fire started when he spotted smoke coming from the building. Then, saw Benamon run out, screaming for help.

“He said, ‘my family is in there. I need help,’” Wilkins said Saturday. Trying to help, Wilkins tried to run through the open front door, but was overcome by smoke, he said.

“There was no way to see through the smoke…I heard the cries of a baby,” Wilkins said. “What do you do? How do you save someone who can’t be saved? There was no way of getting in.”

After failing to get into the home through the front door, he ran to the back of the building but was stopped by the fire. Firefighters arrived after he returned to the front of the home, Wilkins said.

Donte said he was home with Jaantwiaon and his 4-year-old brother, Devon, when the fire happened. Devon, the brother had Cerebral palsy, was rescued by firefighters, according to family friend and neighbor Lakisha Johnson.

She lived in the other home that was damaged by the flames and returned Saturday with Donte to try and salvage items from the home.

Johnson said she was on her way to a reception when her mother – the 56-year-old woman injured in the fire – called to tell her there was a fire and told her she couldn’t get out.

After getting the call, Johnson rushed to her home, finding the two buildings in flames, she said. After learning her mother and her own children were alive, neighbors told her Jaantwiaon – her Godson – did not survive.

Workers boarded up the two homes Saturday morning.

The space where the windows blew out at 151 North Laramie revealed a destroyed interior. Parts of the home next door were intact, but covered in soot. Others who live on the block said they lost electricity and were told to leave their homes. The Chicago Red Cross helped 20 people displaced by the fire, according to its Twitter account.

Estrada said while the fire remains under investigation, the Bomb and Arson Unit and the Office of Fire Investigation determined the cause to be accidental.

“It’s devastating,” Johnson said as she wiped away tears.

By Kate Thayer and Adam Sege Tribune reporters

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC


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