Saved Man Dies One Day After House Blows Up


By Margarita Martin-Hidalgo


The Ledger


margarita.martin-hidalgo@theledger.com

LAKE WALES -- Nearly a day after a stranger leaped into his burning home and pulled him out alive, a Lake Wales man died Saturday from complications stemming from severe burns he suffered to 50 percent of his body, hospital officials said.

A.D. McKay, 84, died Saturday night at Orlando Regional Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"It's a shame that he didn't live," said Mike Acreman, the man who rescued him.

"I feel disappointed. I did the best I could do for him, and I'm glad I did what I did. I feel sorry for the family."

McKay's house caught fire just before midnight Friday after gas leaked into his home and quickly triggered the blaze that all but consumed his home, investigators with the state's Fire Marshal's Office said.

They described the blaze as accidental.

Acreman, 53, is a mechanic for Florida's Natural Growers plant, which sits directly across the street from McKay's home at 645 Washington Ave.

He jumped into the porch area of the burning home to save McKay after he heard the first of two explosions.

Acreman said he was on his dinner break at the plant Friday when he heard the first burst at about 11:50 p.m.

Intrigued by what he said sounded like a sonic boom or a truck as it overturned, Acreman walked outside to see what was going on.

Outside, he saw a woman screaming hysterically and two men stood in front of the house yelling at someone.

When he saw the blazing home, Acreman said he hoped he didn't have to go in and save anyone.

But the realization that someone was inside left him no choice.

"I couldn't turn away," Acreman said.

By then, the roof had collapsed and trapped McKay in the porch area, Acreman said.

The elderly man was severely burned and was trying to keep himself up by leaning on a wall.

"I told him `we're going to get you out,' " Acreman said.

He said he carefully climbed over the roof, which had baricaded the front of the porch, and lifted McKay to an upright position.

McKay's belt was on fire, and Acreman said patted him around the waistline to put out the flames.

Then he grabbed McKay by his buttocks and pushed him over the roof, where someone was waiting to carry him to safety, Acreman said.

After he jumped from the porch area, Acreman said he and two other men were about to place McKay on the lawn when they heard a second explosion.

Fearing the fire might reach them, they ran across the street with the injured man and laid him on the grass, next to the fence that surrounds the plant.

"(Within) five minutes, the house was about gone," Acreman said.

McKay's chest, arms, hands and back were so badly burned the skin was peeling off his body, he said.

Lake Wales Deputy Fire Chief Henry Croley said McKay sustained second and third-degree burns to his upper body.

Croley, who responded to the emergency call just past midnight Saturday, said he was surprised McKay had been able to make it out of his house alive.

"It's miraculous that (he) survived the first blast," said Croley, who said he'd never seen a fire consume a home as quickly as the one that charred McKay's home.

Just as surprising, said the 16-year veteran firefighter, was that Acreman had survived.

"This was an act of heroism," Croley said.

Kevin Shireman, with the State Fire Marshal's Office said the gas leak was accidental.

The liquid petroleum, commonly known as LP gas, made its way into the house through a copper line that had not been closed.

The hose, which at one time had been hooked up to a stove, was one of three gas lines that were connected to a 120-gallon gas tank McKay kept outside.

The first line was linked to a heater, and the third was sealed, Shireman said.

He said investigators believe the gas flowed in after McKay opened the valve to turn on the heater.

Investigators, who were at the scene for about 12 hours, did not know why second line was not shut off, he said.

Shireman said the investigation remains open. But he ruled out foul play.

McKay's property was reduced to shambles.

The fire and explosion blew glass, charred wooden planks, cement blocks, window panes and other debris across the lawn.

Few walls remained standing Saturday, and there were a few heaps of charcoaled debris lying on the southern and northern parts of the remaining structure.

Pots and pans lay on the floor in one of the rooms. A portion of the roof lay on the lawn. Part of a horizontal blind lay on one of the cars, a blue four-door Cadillac Sedan De Ville.

As he surveyed the wreckage Saturday afternoon, Acreman said he doesn't deserve any recognition for what he did.

"I hope it would come natural to anybody," he said.

Margarita Martin-Hidalgo can be reached at margarita.martinhidalgo@theled ger.com or 863294-4639.