This week I flew back to Ohio briefly. Unfortunately, Ohio requires your physical presence to renew a driver's license, and mine was set to expire on October 19th of this year. I took a redeye flight from LAX into Cleveland, then took a commuter flight to Dayton. It wasn't a bad trip, but I was a little fried when I got into Hopkins. So I grabbed the biggest, most potent coffee the Phoenix stand in C Terminal had to offer, and a Plain Dealer; comics are an important part of de-stressing when you've just spent the last five hours being elbowed by a smelly, obese, insomniac.
And it was then that I got the best news I've received in at least the last three years.
The headline for the day was, of course, something about the bailout. Or maybe it was the Palin/Biden debate scheduled for that night. Either way, that wasn't what got my attention.
What got my attention were the seven smiling children just above the fold.
I had seen those faces before.
All of them had been in the paper three years earlier.
On May 21, 2005, I was working in an Emergency Department in Cleveland. My shift ended at 3:00 AM, and I was getting ready to leave when we got word that seven ambulances were headed our way with critical patients, five of them receiving CPR at the time. We were already short-staffed that night, like most nights, so I stayed to help. The first ambulance arrived a short time later, carrying a teenage boy. As soon as the doors opened, we knew what had caused his cardiac arrest. The smell of smoke hit us even before we saw his half-burned clothes lying under him on the gurney, where the paramedics had cut them off his thin, wiry body to start IV lines and determine his injuries. He was rolled into the room where I was waiting, along with two nurses and several ED doctors. We tried to resuscitate him, but every time his pulse returned it faded quickly thereafter. After several tries, we had to give up in order to focus on the other victims coming in.
That was the story with all but one of the people who came in from the fire that night. She survived to head up to the burn unit for three weeks, and is still alive today. The ED staff found out before the end of the night that the house which burned had been hosting a sleepover that night. The teenager I had helped try to save was the guest of honor; he had been only three hours into his birthday when the fire started. By the next day the fire had been ruled first "suspicious" by the investigators, and "arson" shortly thereafter. Whoever set the fire poured gasoline around the doors before lighting the blaze. Even with working smoke detectors in the house, no one had any warning. All the victims were likely dead from smoke inhalation even before the flames reached their sleeping bodies. The only consolation there was that they likely felt no pain before they died.
The investigation stalled after the fire. The PD didn't report any more breakthroughs, and I stopped wondering if the arsonist would ever be caught. Until I picked up the Plain Dealer for Thursday, October 2, 2008 and found this story. The only thought that ran through my head until my flight landed in Dayton was "Holy s***, they got the motherf***er." It was a good flight.