Three Students Killed in House Fire Near Miami of Ohio University

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) -- A fire early Sunday morning at a house near Miami University killed three Miami students and injured two others, authorities said.

''It looked like the house had wings of flame, almost,'' said Jesse Gerulis, a Miami sophomore who lives in a nearby university housing complex.

Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, about 30 miles south of Oxford, Stephen J. Smith, 22, of Bethesda, Md., and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., died in the fire, Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said.

Burkhardt said Turnbull and Welling died of carbon monoxide poisoning but no cause of death has been determined for Smith yet. All of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, he said.

Gerulis said he ran to the house and saw two people come out from behind the two-story, brick home with oxygen masks to their faces. He said they stumbled to a hospital emergency room about 100 yards away.

Smith was one of nine male students who rented the home, authorities said.

Turnbull and Welling were found in separate, second-floor bedrooms, fire chief Len Endress said. Smith was found near the front door.

Two residents were released after treatments at McCullough-Hyde Hospital.

Endress said investigators believe 11 people were in the house when the fire started, seven residents and four guests, and that a 911 call came from someone in the house awakened by a smoke detector.

An unidentified male tells the dispatcher during the 911 call that there is a fire and gives the address, according to a recording provided by authorities. He utters an obscentity, then informs the operator that he thinks there is still somebody inside the house. The person does not sound panicked during the emergency call.

Investigators believe the fire was accidental and may have started in a rec room downstairs because the emergency call came from a nearby room.

All three victims were on the second floor when the fire started, Endress said.

Endress said all four people on the first floor left the house safely. Three of the seven people on the second floor got out through a fire escape and one jumped out a window.

It took firefighters 90 minutes to bring the fire under control. Authorities were called about 4:30 a.m.

The roof of the worn-looking house partially collapsed and all the windows were broken out. The house is in a neighborhood of large, older homes surrounded by large trees a couple blocks from campus.

Two people sitting on the roof of a nearby house when the fire started said the smoke and flames were intense.

''Every single window was billowing smoke and flames out of it. There was really nothing they could do when they got here,'' Ross Neuhauser, 20, a Miami student from Louisville, Ky., said of firefighters.

The woman he was with, Alli Davis, 18, of Oxford, said, ''Just before we came here, a guy jumped out of a second story window and walked straight into the hospital, head down, a nasty cut on his leg.''

Groups of students walked by the house Sunday afternoon and one woman was crying and being comforted by friends.

Tyler Rand, 19, a student from Columbus, said he played on Miami's club rugby team with some residents of the house.

''I care a lot for these guys and it's just unfortunate,'' he said. ''I've been here quite a few of times and the guys were really welcoming. It's heartbreaking to think a few weeks ago I was walking through the door for a social with the team from Michigan coming down here, and now it's torched.''

Sunday evening, about a dozen people _ some college-age, most bearing yellow, purple, pink and white flowers _ stopped in front of the house. They propped the flowers up against a telephone pole, inches below a strip of yellow police tape.

The mourners gathered in a circle, some crying, bowed their heads and prayed briefly, then dispersed.

The last major structure fire involving Miami students was on Nov. 10, 2000, at the Sigma Chi house in which 50 residents were evacuated and one had to be hospitalized, according to the city, a college town of 22,000 people about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

The last time a Miami student was killed in a fire at Oxford was at another off-campus house in 1994, according to Richard Little, a school spokesman.

Miami officials met with the survivors of the fire early Sunday to offer help.

''We are doing everything we can to help and provide support to the families and friends of the victims, but this is a tragedy that is touching everyone in the university,'' Miami president Jim Garland said in a statement.

The 196-year-old college has 15,300 undergraduates and 1,400 graduate students at its Oxford campus, according to Miami's Web site.

In a similar fire two years ago, three Ohio University and two Ohio State students died in a three-story brick house near the Ohio State campus in Columbus after a 21st birthday party for one of the victims, who lived there. Authorities labeled that fire as arson. Charges against one person were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

Neuhauser said the deaths made him feel foolish for his worries.

''I was all stressed out about a test and a paper,'' he said.