A 49-year-old Milford Mill man -- described by neighbors as emotionally troubled and incapable of caring for himself -- died yesterday morning in an accidental fire that started on his kitchen stove and roared through the rest of his two-bedroom home, authorities said.
The body of Louis Waitsman was found by Baltimore County firefighters in the living room of his house in the 8000 block of Milton Avenue, near Milford Mill and Liberty roads. He had lived alone in the small brick ranch house since his parents died about 10 years ago and recently had undergone surgery for a hernia, neighbors and a relative said.
"The tragedy of the situation is that he was a person not able to clean up after himself," said Arnold Pasman, who lived next door to Mr. Waitsman for nearly 30 years.
Mr. Pasman said he had contacted county health and social service workers about Mr. Waitsman last summer and fall, after noticing rats running in and out of his house, but that no action was taken.
Mr. Pasman provided a copy of an unsigned letter, dated Sept. 17, he sent to the county's office of Adult Protective Services that described a "nauseating odor" coming from Mr. Waitsman's house.
"Because of his limited reasoning power, Mr. Waitsman rejects advice or help from neighbors," the letter said. "If he is to live independently, he will need on-site supervision and assistance."
Camille B. Wheeler, director of the county's Department of Social Services, said yesterday that she was certain social services workers would have investigated if Mr. Pasman's letter had been received. But she said authorities are powerless to intervene unless an adult is an immediate danger to himself or others.
"You can't interfere with the freedom of adults without very good reason," she said.
Nonetheless, Ms. Wheeler said she will look into her department's handling of the situation this week.
Mr. Waitsman worked part time for several years at the Burger King in the 8000 block of Liberty Road, where crew leader Charlene Gaither described him as a man who "didn't want to depend on anyone else."
He drew cartoon-like pictures and collected old comic books, which he had stacked in piles on the floor of his house, neighbors said. He had no children and lived with a terrier he called Baby, who died about a week ago, they said.
"If you tell him something, it takes a long time for it to register," said Mervyn Hurwitz, a friend who brought him home from the hospital a week ago. "He seemed like the Rain Man," added Mr. Hurwitz's wife, Sue, referring to the title character of the 1988 Academy Award-winning movie about the relationship between an autistic man and his hustler brother.