Neighbor doubts women initially escaped burning Shrewsbury Twp. home

Investigators are on the scene of a fatal fire in Shrewsbury Township Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Debbie Sandy said she does not think her neighbor, Melody Waltermeyer, went back into her burning Shrewsbury Township home Friday to retrieve her cats.

"She knew where the cats were," Sandy said.

The cats always stayed upstairs because that's where the food and litter was, so even if Waltermeyer and her niece, Brenda Neal, did go back in for them, there's no reason they would have gone to the basement, she said.

Sandy said she does not think the two ever made it out.

Fire officials said the women initially escaped, but were killed when they reentered the home on the first block of Foundry Road to save the pets.

Neal, 47, of Hampstead, Maryland, and Waltermeyer, 58, who lived at the Foundry Road address, were found in the basement of the home, which was destroyed by fire early Friday, Dec. 8, according to Shrewsbury Fire Chief Tony Myers.

"As far as we know, this is the first fire fatality in Shrewsbury in the past 50 years," Myers said.

The pets did not make it, he said. 

Myers said the fire critically injured the homeowner, Jackie Keener, who lived upstairs. Waltermeyer lived in the basement, and Neal had arrived the previous night to visit her aunt.

Keener is 69 years old, according to state police, who said investigating troopers will conduct more interviews.

The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined, according to Trooper Brent Miller, a state police spokesman.

Sandy said Keener repeatedly told firefighters on the scene that the two went back for the animals, but Sandy said she believes Keener could have been disoriented from the fire. 

Waltermeyer and Neal loved animals, however, and Sandy said, "If they would have come out, I could see them coming back in."

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Injuries: The fire was first reported about 1:40 a.m. Friday, Dec. 8, Myers said the homeowner tried to go back inside the home after Waltermeyer and Neal went in to rescue pets.

“Southern Regional Police were first on location; they stopped her from going in,” he said.

The officers yelled for the two women inside, but they never came out. Keener suffered burns and was taken by ambulance to York Hospital within 20 minutes of officials arriving, the chief said.

Keener was then transported to Lehigh Valley Regional Burn Center in Allentown, Myers said.

Keener is in stable condition, according to the burn center.

Popping noise: Neighbor Dan Marinelli said he remembers waking up and hearing a popping noise.

"I thought it was gunshots," he said, adding that he later saw the firefighters breaking windows and trying to get in to save the women.

Ed Yingling, another neighbor, also recalled hearing a loud bang about 1:30 a.m. He and a few others, including Sandy, called 911 when they saw the fire.

Neighbor Tina Schmitt said she saw Keener on the front porch and called her husband from the house to drag her away from the fire.

"She was in complete shock," Schmitt said.

Sandy said she grabbed her slippers and ran outside without a coat, screaming for Waltermeyer and Neal to get out. 

"We were trying to get Jackie in the hospital," Sandy said of herself and her husband.

They left before the firefighters found the women inside, but Sandy said, "I knew deep down that they weren't gonna make it out."

Their cause of death was carbon monoxide toxicity because of the fire, with the manner accidental, according to the coroner's office. 

Fire: Myers said a state police fire marshal will investigate the cause of the blaze.

The chief said It looks as though the fire started in the living room and spread to the rest of the house.

Sandy said Waltermeyer's car and the carport it was underneath were the first things she noticed that were on fire. When the fire spread to Neal's car and then the electrical wiring in the back of the house, it began to spread to the rest of it, she said.

Keener had tried to enter through the back door, which fueled the blaze with oxygen, Sandy said, and Keener was probably caught in the backdraft.

"The interior of the home was destroyed," Myers said. A damage estimate wasn't available Friday.

Half of the home was on fire when officials arrived, according to the chief. It took firefighters two hours to bring the fire under control.

Multiple fire departments, including some from Maryland, helped fight the fire, Myers said.

No firefighters were hurt, he said.

The chief stressed the importance of not re-entering a burning building.

"Statistics show that people who re-enter the home during a fire don't come back out," he said.

In this scenario, he said, it claimed the lives of two women and critically injured another.

"We all love our pets," he said. "But it's not worth your life."