Child Dies in South Muncie Fire

Mother and others in house escaped

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - A terrible tragedy in the community left a three-old-year boy dead while the mother, her boyfriend and another child escaped injury from a fire that destroyed a south neighborhood home early Thursday morning..

Police questioned mother Katherine Wooten and her boyfriend Dustin Mitchell, who jumped out a window  with a 14-month child following an explosion and fire that consumed their home at 1724 S. Daly St.

Family of the victim identified the child as Clayton Carnes who was living with his mother at the property. 

Mayor Dennis Tyler, whose voice broke as he talked about the tragedy, assembled state law enforcement, Delaware County Prosecutor Jeff Arnold and local public safety officials hours after the fire. At the press conference, the investigation was said to be ongoing as to the cause of fire, cause of death, and how the adults got out of the home engulfed in flames while the three-year-old was left inside.

A neighbor living across the street from Wooten and her boyfriend said he heard a loud explosion before seeing the house burst into flames around 9:03 p.m. Other neighbors saw Wooten and Mitchell outside with the baby, and the mother trying to get back inside to save Carnes.

Fire Chief Ed Bell said firefighters were on the scene within three minutes of the call and found the home engulfed in flames. The fire was out within minutes and firefighters found Carnes inside in the living room.

It appeared the fire started in the living room, judging from a window air conditioner that was found melted outside the house later in the day,

Fire investigator Ron Mead was still investigating the fire's origin Thursday night and said a cause had not been determined. But authorities indicated the victim was found where the fire burned the most in the living room, judging from observation of the scene.

Police Chief Steve Stewart said the incident remained under investigation as the property was surrounded by police tape, indicating a crime scene. Police were guarding the scene as fire investigators went through the rubble Thursday night.

The mayor, a retired firefighter, called the incident a terrible tragedy with the loss of the child. It's been a decade since children have been killed by fire. In 2003, five children died in fires, according to Fire Battalion Chief James Clevenger Jr., who was at the scene of Thursday's blaze.

Clevenger said firefighters did everything they could to immediately put out the fire and find the victim. He also pointed out there were optimum conditions for firefighting; daylight, great response time and available water.

Yet family of the victim, like Liberty Perry, pointed out how Indiana State Police were brought to the scene along with Homeland Security, that includes the state fire marshal, and how that suggested a crime might have been committed.

Perry told media, including Indianapolis television reporters, the explosion was caused by a meth lab and she suspected the boyfriend was involved.

Police remained silent on the ongoing investigation with no explanation of why the prosecutor was at the news conference and no comment about the incident.

Delaware County Coroner Scott Hahn also was at the gathering, but did not offer the name of the victim or how the boy died.

Stewart said police might have an update on Friday.

Other neighbors indicated that Wooten was impoverished and lived in one of the most rundown houses in the neighborhood. There were calls for clothes and other basic means by community groups for the survivors, and the Red Cross was on the scene Thursday to help with public safety.

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