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6 die in Cass County fire

BY Paige Conley - pconley@perutribune.com

PERU -- The structure fire which engulfed a Logansport home in the early hours Wednesday morning has left six dead and two more individuals hospitalized, according to Indiana State Police.

According to ISP Sergeant Tony Slocum, a neighbor was the one who called Cass County Dispatchers, reporting the fire at 4317 Pottawatomie Point Road in which six individuals were reportedly trapped inside.

Cass County Sheriff's deputies Nick Bowyer and Ryan Preston were the first on scene where they attempted to rescue those still inside.

“They jumped on the roof of the first floor of the residence and broke a window trying to get into the second story,” said Cass County Sheriff Randy Pryor. “The flames and smoke pushed them back.”

As a result, Bowyer suffered from smoke inhalation, but refused medical treatment at the scene. On scene, the deputies also located two residents, Shelia Huddleston, 43, and Brandon Huddleston, 19, who had allegedly escaped the fire and were outside upon the deputies arrival.

Both individuals were transported by ambulance to Logansport Memorial Hospital where they suffered non-life threatening injuries.

According to Pryor, the two-story home was engulfed by the time first responders arrived on scene and required assistance from several agencies to put it out.

“Multiple fire departments arrived on scene to battle the fire, cold temperatures and lack of on scene access to water,” stated information from an ISP press release. “Firefighters had to truck in water from a Logansport hydrant when their tanker trucks ran dry.”

After several hours, firefighters were able to extinguish the flames and begin the process of combing through what remained of the residence.

“There is so much destruction in this home,” said Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson “The roof is collapsed. The second floor is collapsed, so we have to dig through that debris.”

In an effort to aid them in their search, officials requested cadaver dogs to assist them in finding the bodies rumored to be in the home.

As of Wednesday evening, all six bodies had been recovered including two adults and four children.

As stated in the release, the two adults were identified as Joseph Huddleston, 42 and Brandi Vail, 25. The children were identified as Kadee Huddleston, 10, Swayzee Hite, 3, Rhylie Hite, 1 and three-month-old Marshall Hite.

The three youngest children were the progeny of Vail, and Kadee Huddleston was the daughter of Joseph Huddleston.

Vail was also the step-daughter of Huddleston and the two survivors, Shelia and Brandon, were the wife and son of Huddleston, according to the release.

The investigation, led by the Cass County Sheriff's Department, is being treated as a criminal investigation for the time being, according to Pryor.

“I think that with any fire of this magnitude you have to start out with a criminal investigation,” he said. “You want to find out all the facts you can whether it's an accidental fire or something more.”

At this time, investigators have completed their inspection of the entirity of the home and debris where they've found no evidence indicating the fire was set intentionally, according to an updated ISP press release.

Through the survivor's statements, Pryor said he believes the fire originated in the southeast part of the residence and major appliances -- including the stove and water heater-- have been ruled out as the cause of the fire.

"There is some evidence indicating the fire could have been caused by an electrical issue, but due to the destruction caused by the fire, the cause remains as undetermined," stated the release.

As for the survivors, Pryor stated they are cooperating with officials in their investigation which is critical at this time.

“That is our link, so we know what was going on prior to the fire, what the circumstances were in that household and what conditions were,” Greeson said. “That’s vitally important to us.”

The investigation will continue until all evidence is collected and, until then, Slocum asks that residents keep the family devastated by the fire and the first responders in their prayers.

“Please wrap this Cass County first responder community with your arms, love and prayers,” Slocum said. “When you want to be a firefighter or police officer, you dream of putting out fires and catching bad guys. You don’t dream about combing through a home recovering bodies and looking for evidence in a death investigation or any kind of investigation.”

In addition to the Cass County Sheriff's Department, the Logansport Fire Department, the New Waverly Fire Department, the Clymer’s Fire Department, the Walton Fire Department, the Indiana State Police, the Logansport Police Department, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the Indiana Fire Marshal’s Office, Cass County Emergency Management Agency, Cass County Emergency Management Services, the Cass County Coroner’s Office and the local chapter of the Salvation Army assisted at the scene.