Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Officials: Fire set by victim

Blind woman dies in Ft. Thomas blaze

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Assistant state Fire Marshal Jack Flowers, left, and Fort Thomas Police Detective Rich Whitford investigate the scene of the fire on Grant Street.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
| ZOOM |
        FORT THOMAS — Police, fire and medical investigators said Monday night that Debby Partin methodically set a fire in her Fort Thomas home early Monday morning, taking her own life and leaving no answer about why she wanted to die.

        Ms. Partin, 49, who was legally blind, died as she lived, alone in the Grant Street house she rarely left.

        “There was no note or any indication why she did this,” said Fort Thomas Police Detective Richard Whitford, “other than what neighbors have told us — that she was a disabled woman who stayed in and was probably very lonely.”

        A woman who said she was Ms. Partin's cousin disagreed with authorities' theory.

        A woman standing outside the gutted house late Monday evening who identified herself as Ila Lockard, 56, of Florence, Ms. Partin's cousin, said she does not believe that Ms. Partin took her own life.

        “In my opinion, there is no way she did that,” Ms. Lockard said

        “If she was going to kill herself, I do not believe she would have done it with fire because she was afraid of fire.”

        A dog trained for arson investigations confirmed that some type of accelerant, possibly gasoline or lighter fluid, was used to start the fire.

        Evidence at the scene and interviews with neighbors sketched a picture of the last few hours of Ms. Partin's life:

        About 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Ms. Partin walked about a half-mile to a grocery story. Shortly after midnight she ate, possibly having some of the peanut butter from a jar found in her kitchen.

        Around 3:30 a.m., she poured an accelerant on some clothes and on the floor in a second-floor closet, set fire to them and then made her way into a small crawl space in the attic.

        Firefighters found her body about two hours after the fire was extinguished.

        “She was on her back, with her hands across her chest, almost in a praying position,” Detective Whitford said. “She was a religious person ... and we found some religious articles and a Bible near her.”

        Ms. Lockard said she talked with her cousin just a few days ago by phone. They made plans to celebrate Ms. Partin's 50th birthday on Sept. 27.

        “We always do something special on her birthday, like go out to eat or something, and I'm sure she was looking forward to that,” Ms. Lockard said.

        Firefighters said about $100,000 damage was done to the house, which they considered a total loss.

        The official cause of death wassmoke inhalation.

        Most of the residents along Grant Street knew who Debbie Partin was, though they didn't know her very well.

        “She's been alone for so long, and then to die in such a tragic way is just so sad,” said Rebecca Grome, a neighbor who discovered the fire, called police and then tried to alert Ms. Partin.

        “I don't really think she had much of a life.”

        Unable to work, Ms. Partin went out only after dark because sunlight hurt her eyes. She often walked to the local IGA grocery store and would occasionally ask neighbors for a ride.

        Neighborhood children and pets would wander into or play in her yard, but she never ran them off or complained.

        “She would say "hi' to (my) kids, but she kept pretty much to herself,” said Linda Staley, who lives across from Ms. Partin's home.

        Neighbors said Ms. Partin lived in the house for most of her life. She had few family or friends and her parents died 15 to 20 years ago, leaving her to live alone.

        Because of her disability, Ms. Partin was unable to maintain her home, which needed a paint job and was losing roof shingles. Over the years, local churches raised money to pay for repairs and maintenance to the house.

        The Fort Thomas police and the Kentucky Fire Marshal's Office are assisting with the investigation, Chief Dieckman said.

        Ms. Grome, 37, a social worker, woke up and smelled smoke just before 4 a.m. Monday.

        “I checked my house, and looked out the window to check on the neighbors. That's when I saw the smoke across the street,” Ms. Grome said. Two Fort Thomas police officers — patrolmen Jim Young and Scott Gonzales — broke windows and kicked in a door but were unable to locate Ms. Partin, who usually slept in a first-floor bedroom.

        Both were treated for smoke inhalation at St. Luke East Hospital in Fort Thomas and released.

        Firefighters from Fort Thomas, Southgate and Dayton responded. A Fort Thomas firefighter, Lt. Matt Boyers, suffered a broken arm when he fell from a driveway retaining wall.

        He underwent surgery and was listed in fair condition, said a St. Luke Hospital spokeswoman.


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