The Beverly Hills Fire: Bearing Testament
Lives That Were Touched

Wayne Dammert was the diningroom captain.
''I still think about the women I tried to rescue,'' Wayne Dammert said. ''I think about what might have happened, if I had gotten over to the area where they were. I think I would have died, too.''

Mr. Dammert, a dining-room captain and one-time card dealer at Beverly Hills, said employees instinctively tried to help club patrons when the fire broke out.

''No one told us what to do in case of a fire,'' he said. ''We (employees) could have run out. We knew the building, knew the best ways to exit. But we stayed in there and helped people get out. I really believe if the employees hadn't done what they did that night, you probably could have scratched over 1,000 people.

''Don't forget, we lost 10 employees, including band members, in the fire. We were all close, like family. Everyone helped that night, guys and girls, black and white.''

Mr. Dammert tells his story in Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, a book by Ron Elliott (Turner, $21.95) published in December 1996.

-- Terry Flynn

Marguerette Spinks liives in Oakley with her husband and 12-year-old son.
Marguerette (Day) Spinks lost two friends in the fire but found a purpose for her life.

Mrs. Spinks, now 46 and divorced from Dennis Day Sr., was at Beverly Hills for a fund-raising fashion show put on by the Cincinnati Choral Union. She sang alto in the group, which often rehearsed at her church, Jerriel Baptist, in the West End.

Two members of the group, Lenora Hill Gentry and Sharlene Matthews, were separated from their friends shortly after the fire was reported. They didn't make it out of the club alive..

The three women were members of a close-knit group of friends who often played cards on weekends at Mrs. Gentry's apartment.

''Lenora could not have children, but she was always working with children, especially young girls,'' said Mrs. Spinks, the Jerriel Baptist secretary, remarried and living in Oakley with her husband and 12-year-old son.

''The way I look at it, there is a reason everything happens,'' she said. ''I consider myself blessed to have survived and realize there is a purpose for my being alive.

''I have found my purpose. It's children. I'm always working with children, my one and the ones here at the church. That's how I try to honor Lenora and Sharlene.''

-- Mark Curnutte

Attorney Fay Stilz is involved in her second fire-related cause.
''At the time of the fire, we were in exams,'' Fay Stilz recalled last month as acrid smoke wafted into her 15th floor corner office in the Central Trust Tower.

It was only an ''incident'' in the annex, management assured her, and she needn't be alarmed.

Yeah. Sure.

Ms. Stilz was a second-year law student and part-time clerk for a small downtown firm where attorney Stanley M. Chesley filed the first victim's suit while Beverly Hills was still smoldering.

By the time the first Beverly jury was seated, Ms. Stilz was a lawyer responsible for physical evidence and researching and writing pre-trial documents.

Ms. Stilz read, remembered and helped organize tens of thousands of interviews, documents and reports filed by state troopers, lawyers and others in the class action.

When her team needed a supporting fact or demolishing detail, she knew where it was.

It was a formative experience. Ms. Stilz still masters every document in her cases. ''I like to have them in my grasp. I like to know what's in them.''

For the first time since Beverly Hills, she is involved in a fire-related case at the start: a class action to require sprinklers in mobile homes sold in Kentucky.

''There is a wrong to be righted. That still gets to me.''

-- Ben L. Kaufman

Emphysema forced Ron Bridewell to take early retirement in 1980.
Ron Bridewell is reminded of the fire every time he struggles to take a breath.

''It's cost my family dearly,'' said the 61-year-old Highland Heights man, who spends his days in a wheelchair tethered to an oxygen tank. ''I've got seven grandchildren, and I'd give anything in the world if I could just get out there and toss a ball with them.''

The night of the fire, the Newport assistant fire chief crawled through a smoky hallway without an air mask, pulling out as many bodies as he could.

Afterward, the athlete ''who could run like a deer'' was diagnosed with emphysema. His injuries forced him to take early retirement from the fire department in 1980, and he has battled a variety of ailments ever since.

''I have to say, if I had it to do all over again, I would still go in there,'' he said in a raspy voice. ''Those people were somebody's child or parent or (spouse). They all mattered to someone.''

-- Cindy Schroeder

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