By Ed Brock
Nicole Turner said she tried desperately to get her 6-year-old neighbor to jump from the second-story window of the burning townhouse where he lived.
"He's so scared of heights, he just wouldn't jump," Turner said.
The boy, who Turner identified as Anthony Landsbury, died in the fire that swept the townhouse at Monterey Town Homes on Tara Boulevard near Jonesboro just before 3:54 a.m. Wednesday. His mother, Melinda McCullem and 10-year-old sister Christine, who did jump from a second-floor window, were in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
McCullem's boyfriend, Alexis Leviatt, was apparently the adult male who was also transported to Grady after the fire but his condition was unavailable.
Clayton County Fire Department Spokeswoman Amy Nix did not release the victims' names and the spelling of all the names, as well as the ages of McCullem and Leviatt, had not been confirmed by Wednesday afternoon. Turner said Leviatt is about 25 years old and McCullem is 28 or 29.
Nix said the adults and children suffered from smoke inhalation and other injuries.
A friend, Michael Johnson, who escaped the fire unharmed, was downstairs asleep when the fire started, Turner said.
"He said he thought everything was fine until, he has asthma and he started coughing and choking," Turner said.
Johnson then went to the kitchen and saw sparks coming from underneath the oven, and when he opened the drawer beneath the oven flames began coming out. He ran to the bottom of the stairway and began shouting to wake up everybody upstairs, but Turner said the flames spread to the stairwell before Johnson could actually go upstairs.
"(The fire) went straight up the stairs," Turner said.
Johnson ran outside and began shouting up to the bedrooms where the adults and two children were apparently waking up. Turner said she thought he was shouting at her, so she went outside.
Leviatt apparently managed to get everybody together in one room and they began jumping out of a window, Leviatt going first followed by Christine.
"Melinda went to reach for Anthony and he wasn't there," Turner said.
The boy may have gotten lost in the smoke and went toward the sound of Johnson and her shouting at the front of the townhouse. He came to a window there where Turner said she talked to him for about 10 minutes.
"He kept saying ?I'm hot, I'm hot, help me," Turner said.
Finally the flames came up and "took him," Turner said.
"I didn't hear him anymore and I knew he was gone," Turner said.
McCullem also jumped from the rear second story window and Turner said she hit her head on the concrete when she landed, causing serious brain injuries. She said she'd been told that the family would declare her brain dead Wednesday night, but neither Grady Hospital spokeswoman Melva Bell would confirm that.
Turner said Leviatt, who is her boyfriend's cousin, McCullem and the children had moved to the Atlanta area from Washington state about six months ago and had lived in a hotel until moving into the townhouse about two weeks ago. Turner said she had known McCullem and the others for about three months.
She said McCullem is a waitress at Ruby Tuesday and Leviatt worked several jobs, cutting hair and detailing cars at a nearby car dealership.
"They were just getting back on their feet," Turner said.
Nix did not release a cause of the fire. Turner said the switch for the light in the kitchen often sparked when it was turned on and she had reported that to the fire department.