Authorities Investigate Ohio State Fire

Authorities were investigating reports that a fight broke out before a house fire near Ohio State University killed five students and injured three others.


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Authorities were investigating reports that a fight broke out before a house fire near Ohio State University killed five students and injured three others.

The fire started early Sunday at a three-story home as a student's 21st birthday party was breaking up. That student was among the dead. Arson and homicide investigators were at the student-rented house.

Investigators had not determined Monday whether the fire was arson or accidental, said police spokeswoman Sherry Mercurio. Police said they wouldn't release the cause of the fire or the victim's identities until Tuesday.

Party guest Richie Delmont, an Ohio State junior, said an argument began when another guest tried to lift a refrigerator on a dare and one of the residents told him to stop. Delmont said the confrontation did not get physical.

About 80 people were at the party, Columbus police Sgt. Dana Norman said. At about 2 a.m., someone smelled natural gas. Roughly two hours later, the fire started with 10 to 20 people inside the house, Norman said. It appeared some had been sleeping when the fire broke out.

Two of the victims were Ohio State students. Alan Schlessman, 21, of Perkins Township near Sandusky and Kyle Raulin, 21, of West Chester both lived in the house.

The party was for Schlessman's birthday.

Three visiting female students from Ohio University in Athens also died. Two of them were identified as Andrea K. Dennis, 20, of Madeira, and Erin M. DeMarco, 19, of Canton. The third had not been identified by Monday morning.

Both Ohio State and Ohio University in Athens, about 65 miles southeast of Columbus, will hold memorial services, spokeswomen for the universities said.

``We are clearly a community in mourning,'' Ohio State president Karen Holbrook said. ``Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the young people who lost their lives and to those who were injured.''

Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis said it appeared the victims died from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Autopsies were to begin Monday.

Investigators were trying to determine whether the victims had been drinking, which could have contributed to slower reaction times.

Ohio State sophomore Josh Patterson, 20, from Cincinnati, was in critical condition early Monday morning at the Ohio State University Medical Center. Two women were treated and released.

Carpets littered one of the yards next to the charred house and plywood covered the windows Sunday night. Orange police tape marked off the yard and a police cruiser sat in front of the house.

Richard Talbott owns an adjacent house that was damaged by the fire. He said the house where it broke out was not one of the ``problem houses'' where parties get out of control.

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