Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Two campuses mourn five deaths

No ruling yet on fire's cause

By Shelley Davis
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

At Ohio University in Athens, members of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority mourn the loss of three of their sorority sisters in a fire near the Ohio State University campus in Columbus Sunday.
(AP/Robert Caplin photo)
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COLUMBUS - Two college campuses reeled Monday from the deaths of five students - including two from the Tristate - who perished in a house fire Sunday near Ohio State University.

The fire killed two OSU housemates and three sorority members from Ohio University who had come to Columbus for a birthday party at the house on 17th Avenue.

One of the two housemates was Kyle Raulin, 20, a Lakota West High School graduate and sophomore studying business. The other was Alan R. Schlessman, of Sandusky. It was Schlessman's 21st birthday that was the occasion for the party.

Among the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority members who died was Andrea Kali Dennis, 20, a Madeira High School graduate who majored in journalism at Ohio University in Athens. The others were Erin DeMarco, 19, of Canton, and Christine Wilson, 19, of Dublin.

The preliminary cause of death was smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Dental records were used to confirm the identities of the three OU sorority sisters, and final confirmation of the identities of Raulin and Schlessman are expected by today.

At Columbus, Nishil Dalsania and Jennifer McNamara, both OSU sophomores, leave flowers and a signed memorial to their next-door neighbors and friends, Alan R. Schlessman and Kyle Raulin.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Read their memorial.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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Injured was Josh Patterson, 20, also a Lakota West graduate. He remained hospitalized in Ohio State University Medical Center on Monday. His girlfriend, Jennifer Lehren, 20, of Centerville, is a member of the sorority. She had minor injuries. Another sorority member, Jillian Gardner, age and hometown unknown, was also injured.

Arson investigators from the Columbus Division of Police were still working at the scene Monday afternoon, but details on what the fire department is calling a suspicious fire won't be released until today, said Sgt. Brent Mull, police spokesman.

Mull said investigators are working with the utility company to try to rule out accidental causes. They are also investigating the house for evidence of accelerants and looking into rumors of an argument or excessive use of alcohol. Partygoers have said there were four beer kegs and a dozen cases of beer for the birthday celebration.

Plans for a memorial service at OSU for the students who died are under way. The investiture of Karen A. Holbrook as the university's 13th president, originally scheduled for Wednesday, has been postponed.

The blaze - described by a neighbor as an inferno, with flames leaping over trees - ended a day of celebration.

Ohio University mourns

Alpha Gamma Delta sisters had gathered at the Athens Country Club for lunch Saturday with alumnae and sisters from schools across the country. Several later traveled to Ohio State University for the birthday party.

'"Denny' (Andrea Dennis) was one of the most active and charismatic members of our house," sorority chapter president Andrea Petzold said Monday. "Despite her petite stature, she had a giant heart and quick wit."

Petzold pushed back tears as she talked about the students as members of the sorority, all wearing T-shirts with the sorority's Greek letters, gathered behind her.

"While each unique sister will be deeply missed, we will always keep their memories and spirits alive in our hearts," she said.

The sisters of the 135-member sorority spent most of the sunny afternoon grieving together on their front porch, behind four white pillars that were dressed in red, yellow and green ribbons to commemorate the dead and injured students.

E.W. Scripps School of Journalism visiting assistant professor Bill Reader said Ms. Dennis excelled in his news writing class during the fall quarter.

"She was very serious about her studies," he said. "She was very committed to doing good work."

Ms. Dennis was a member of the sorority's recruitment team and was looking forward to coming recruitment, Ms. Petzold said.

"Always enthusiastic, she kept the well-being of the chapter and its members close to her heart," she said.

Lakota victim a role model

Lakota West basketball coach Mike Mueller said he is close to the entire Raulin family, not just Kyle.

Raulin's dad, Terry, coaches with Mueller in the summer basketball program for younger boys, as did Kyle Raulin. Janet Raulin is a teacher at the Lakota Early Childhood Center.

"This is one of those 'as good as it gets' families," Mueller said. "They give so much of themselves. Terry still coaches our summer camp and league (for younger players) and is the videographer for all our games - home and away."

Mueller said Kyle Raulin, who served as co-captain of the basketball team his senior year, was easy to coach, a leader and a role model for the younger players.

"Kyle was one of those kids I hugged more than I yelled at. Kyle and I were huggers. We shook hands but somehow the handshake always turned into a hug. I'm not sure I ever had to raise my voice to him."

On Monday, a makeshift memorial of yellow roses, cards and a fire-stained Ohio State sweatshirt piled up near the scarred house. A burned couch was on the front porch. The front yard was filled with charred debris. First-floor windows were covered with plywood.

Nishil Dalsania, an Ohio State sophomore from Strongsville, Ohio, had been at the party until about 3 a.m. on Sunday. Dalsania said about 75 people attended the party, which he said was calming down when he went home to go to bed in a house nearby. He said most of the people at the party were starting to go to sleep around 3 a.m.

He was awakened about an hour later by the smoke detectors in his house, which he rents with eight other students. Several of his house's windows closest to the fire were shattered from the heat.

"It was such a panic site," he said. "But the four of us who were here over the weekend got out."

Jared Stafford, an Ohio State senior from Canton who lives next door to the house, said he was on his porch about 11 p.m. Saturday and watched the party for a while. He said it looked like a normal college gathering.

Stafford and Dalsania both said the men who lived in the house threw parties only once in a while, though they often had visitors.

In all, nearly 35 students lost their homes and their possessions as a result of the fire, which affected three buildings on 17th Avenue.

Sorority adviser Sue Chiki said the sorority is working with the students' parents to plan a memorial service. No date or details have been released yet.

She added, however, that the grieving has just begun.

"I think the rocky road is yet to come," she said.

Contributing were Sue Kiesewetter, Erica Solvig and Stephanie Steitzer.

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