Tuesday, May 6, 2003

University still mum about fire

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Lisa Wheeler was somber as she watched television news reports Monday at Starbucks in Western Kentucky University's student center.

Wheeler, a supervisor at the coffee shop, wanted to learn more about the dormitory fire on Sunday morning that left one of the shop's employees, freshman Katie Autry, in critical condition in a Nashville, Tenn., hospital.

"She was sweet," Wheeler said. "It's just a shock."

Autry, from Pellville, suffered burns during the fire at Hugh Poland Hall, which started about 4 a.m. Sunday. University spokesman Bob Skipper also said Autry had puncture wounds that he described as "superficial" and "not life-threatening."

An official with the state fire marshal's office on Sunday described the dorm fire as a "crime scene," but referred calls Monday to university officials.

The school confirmed Autry's identity Monday but otherwise remained tightlipped about the investigation. Autry remained in the burn unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Monday in a medically induced coma, Skipper said.

Hospital spokesman Bill Snyder said he met Monday with Autry's family members, who declined requests for media interviews.

School president Gary Ransdell also refused interview requests from the media.

Gene Tice, the vice president for campus affairs and campus services, would not discuss specifics of the investigation.

Skipper said Monday afternoon that every possible cause of the fire is being considered by investigators, including the possibility it might have been a suicide attempt.

"That has been investigated," he said. "At this point, I can't comment on results of the investigation. They've looked at all possibilities, whether the fire was set by someone else, by herself or was an accident."

Campus police said they were leading the investigation, with assistance from Kentucky State Police, the state fire marshal's office and the Bowling Green Fire Department.

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