Grease fire blamed in woman's death

By Susan Jacobson | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted September 3, 2003

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KISSIMMEE -- An 84-year-old retired schoolteacher died in an apartment fire caused by a skillet of grease left on a stove, fire investigators said Tuesday.

Carrie Bender was sleeping when her 13-year-old grandson, who lived with her at Cascades apartments off Columbia Avenue, left the cast-iron pan on the stove, and the grease in it caught fire about 7:40 p.m. Monday, family and investigators said.

The flames spread to the cabinets above the stove and filled the first-floor apartment with smoke, State Fire Marshal's Office Detective Juan Bailey said.

The fire was out when Kissimmee firefighters arrived and pulled Bender out a window, Bailey said, but it was too late to save her.

Investigators consider the incident an accident and think Bender died of smoke inhalation because she was not burned, Bailey said.

Autopsy results weren't ready Tuesday.

The Fire Marshal's Office warned that flames can turn deadly quickly.

"A small fire can start in a corner of a house, and within five or 10 minutes you have deadly smoke on the other side of the house," Bailey said.

Bender had lived with her daughter and grandson for about two years after moving from Mississippi, said the daughter, Tanya Goodson.

The grandson, whose name wasn't released, left the apartment before the kitchen caught fire, investigators said. Goodson was out of town.

Friends and family Tuesday helped Goodson and her son move their possessions into another apartment in the same complex.

Bender graduated with a teaching degree from Jackson State College, now Jackson State University, in Mississippi, Goodson said. Widowed 33 years ago, she taught elementary school and reared five children, four of whom are living.

"She was pretty outgoing, very vocal," said Goodson, 44, who also has three grown children. "Just overall a good person."

Although Bender wasn't sick, she had cut back her activities and spent a lot of time recently in her room resting or watching television.

"She told me her time was near," Goodson said. "She'd tell me that every day."

Susan Jacobson can be reached at 407-931-5946 or [email protected].