Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Fire leaves father bereft

Firefighters hold him back from returning into the flames

By David Eck
Enquirer Contributor

        MIAMI TOWNSHIP — Richard Joyce was quiet, hands shoved in his pockets and his face beet red, as he slowly walked around and around the burned-out shell of his mobile home.

        He picked up a child's motorbike helmet and flung it into the rubble.

        “He's a mess. He wants to die,” said Linda Feltz, Mr. Joyce's sister.

[photo] In this trailer, two boys were killed in an intense fire.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        An intense fire that engulfed the home at 12:42 a.m. Tuesday killed Mr. Joyce's sons, Richard “Ricky” Jr., 12, and Zachary, 9. The three lived along East Miami River Road at the edge of the Great Miami River.

        The boys' mother, Rhonda, was killed several years ago in a car crash, fire officials said.

        “Those boys were his life. They were great kids,” Ms. Feltz said.

        Miami Township Fire Chief Jim Hughes said the fire was caused by a lamp cord shorting out.

        The Joyce home sits on a small plot at the corner of Cowell Street and East Miami River Road among woods, fields and small homes. It is one of several mobile homes in the neighborhood.

        Family members cried out, screamed and held each other tightly as they filtered to the fire scene Tuesday morning. Many of the boys' relatives live nearby along East Miami River Road in the tight-knit Grandview section of Miami Township.

        Both boys were popular in the neighborhood, relatives and neighbors said.

Ricky Joyce
        Zachary was the outgoing child, while Ricky, a fine pool player, was sometimes shy.

        Ricky was a student at Three Rivers Middle School and Zachary went to Miami Heights Elementary. The family asked that school officials not release any details about the boys.

        “Zachary was more of a wild kind of kid, not bad, always happy,” said Koren Dove, 19, a cousin of the boys. “Ricky was more the quiet one. They were always together, every day. They were always with their dad, too. They were a bond.”

        Kurt Dove, 16, another cousin, played with the boys regularly.

        “They liked to play pool, play basketball,” Kurt Dove said. “We'd always go to the park or we'd go play pool.”

        Tears flowed when relatives, neighbors and fire officials talked about the boys.

        “In the last couple of months, little Ricky became a buddy,” said Bill Weathers, who lives across the street from the Joyce home. “They were good boys. They seemed to be happy. I'm having an awfully hard time with this.”

        Mr. Weathers choked up as he told how Ricky helped him with yard work.

        Mr. Joyce loved being a father and cherished his sons, said Patricia Gregg, the boys' great-aunt. The three rode motorbikes together. Mr. Joyce also gave his sons rides on his motorcycle.

        “You very seldom saw him without the boys,” Ms. Gregg said. “He's going to be lost, really lost.”

        Mr. Joyce got in his small red pickup alone and drove away from the trailer about 10 a.m. Tuesday. Family members said he was with a friend and was making funeral arrangements.

        Family and friends — who spent the day together talking, hugging and crying — said they will regroup to help Mr. Joyce with whatever he needs.

        “He's got a lot of friends,” Mrs. Gregg said. “All of us are family.”

        The tragedy was especially hard on firefighters, who knew the boys because they were regulars at a park next to a Miami Township fire station.

        Firefighters arrived at the trailer to find it ablaze and Mr. Joyce outside screaming that his sons were inside. Authorities used a high-tech thermal imaging camera to locate the boys, one in a hallway, the other in his bed.

        They were pronounced dead at the scene.

        Fire crews from Cleves and Colerain and Whitewater townships assisted Miami Township firefighters. Heavy winds fueled the blaze, fire officials said.

        Chief Hughes brushed back tears as he talked about the fire.

        He hugged Ms. Gregg and broke down, saying, “We tried to save them.”

        Grief counselors were made available to firefighters who needed to talk about the events.

        The fire station can be seen from the mobile home, and fire crews were at the fire in less than a minute after the call came in.

        But it was too late.

        Said Chief Hughes, “The firehouse is one block away and we couldn't do anything to save those kids.”


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