House fire claims family of six; Dundalk neighbors gather in vigil on sidewalk for friends

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For Dundalk's Raymond and Marie Jamison -- and the four boys in their family -- summers meant fishing and trips to Ocean City and baseball, lots of baseball. "Big Ray" coached the Patapsco Neck Orioles, Marie ran between fields to see her sons play and, on special occasions, like Thursday night, they watched Cal at Camden Yards.

Yesterday, neighbors recalled a family bound by baseball, and they grieved as firefighters tried to pinpoint the source of an early morning fire that swept through the family's home, killing all six.

Their deaths yesterday shocked their community, sending schoolchildren home early and bringing tearful parents and friends to the scene of the fire in search of consolation and answers.

"The dear Lord works in mysterious ways ... but did He have to take a whole family?" said a tearful Lynn Kedzierski, a neighbor and friend whose son, Joey Reed, played baseball with one of the children killed.

The two-alarm fire at the home on the 100 block of Williams Ave. shortly before 4: 30 a.m. triggered smoke alarms and a flurry of rescue efforts by neighbors, fire officials said.

Killed in the fire were Raymond G. Jamison, 36; his wife, Marie S. Jamison, 33; and the couple's four children, two each from previous marriages. The children were identified as James McCready, 10, and his brother, Brandon, 6, Marie Jamison's children; and Raymond Jamison, 12, and his brother Jacob, 10, Raymond Jamison's children.

"It was like a chimney, and they were at the top of the chimney," said Baltimore County Fire Department spokesman Glenn A. Blackwell.

"It looks like it was accidental. It looks like it started at the bottom of the stairs from the first-floor family room to the second floor."

Battalion Chief Mark Hubbard said the home was being renovated, but the fire caused such extensive damage that it might be several days before the investigators can piece together the cause of the fire and determine where in the kitchen area it started.

He said all six victims were found on the second floor of the three-bedroom house.

Bernadette Marsh -- Jamison's former wife and the mother of two of the children killed -- was visibly grief-stricken when she showed up at the house last night.

"He was very involved in all of their lives," she said of her former husband.

"We had joint custody. They were supposed to go to Ocean City with their father this weekend," said Marsh, who also lives in Dundalk with her current husband.

Raymond Jamison worked at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, neighbors said.

Marie Jamison worked as a secretary at ITO Corp. on Broening Highway, a job she had taken shortly after the couple's marriage about 18 months ago, according to friends and neighbors.

Jamison had lived in the house for at least five years, neighbors said, and when he married, his wife and her two children moved in.

Marie Jamison grew up in Highlandtown, friends said. She worked out regularly and enjoyed line dancing -- and entering radio contests.

"She listened to 93.1-WPOC a lot, and she always won stuff," Kedzierski said.

The family was active in sports and school activities -- Ray Jamison coached and played baseball, and the family also went camping and fishing often, said Dave Rice, whose house backs up to the Jamison home.

"This past weekend, they all went fishing for a couple days," Rice said.

The family's interest in baseball was so avid, Kedzierski said, that Marie Jamison would often watch one of her sons play on one field at Holabird Middle School and then dash across the street to watch another son's team.

"Marie used to go to our games -- when we were on top, she'd go watch the other game," Kedzierski said. "They were all over that field."

Ray Jamison -- known as "Big Ray" in the neighborhood, while his son was called "RayRay" -- played on a local team, coached his sons' Little League team two nights a week and followed major league ball, too.

"Baseball will never be the same here," Kedzierski asked.

The night before the fire, Jamison took his two sons to a Boy Scout meeting in Essex. Neighbors said the family went to see the Orioles with tickets that Marie Jamison had won in a contest.

She had won four tickets, so she and her husband asked several neighborhood couples if they wanted to go to the game. But everyone had plans, said Ron Trabert, who lives two doors from the Jamison house.

Neighbors said fire swept through the house quickly later that night.

Rice and his roommate, John Wolferman, were awakened yesterday morning about 4: 30 a.m., Rice said, by the barking of the Jamisons' retriever puppy, Zoe. The family also had two cats.

He and Wolferman ran outside and could see the flames through the Jamisons' windows. Wolferman called the Fire Department as Rice ran onto the Jamisons' front porch in a frantic effort to rouse them.

"I was banging on the door so loud I woke the neighbors up," Rice said. "Two of us tried to break the door down," but they could not. "The windows started falling out of the house, and wires were melting and sparking all over the lawn."

Rice and Wolferman said they could hear the family's smoke alarms shrilling as they approached the house, but neither they nor fire officials could explain why that didn't wake the family.

"They were meticulous about keeping their smoke detectors in order," Rice said.

The two-story, three-bedroom house of yellow wood and brick was being renovated, neighbors said. Jamison was redoing the kitchen, and electricians had been working at the house Thursday, Kedzierski said.

Fire officials said the partial renovation -- which left studs exposed in the kitchen-family room at the back -- might have helped the fire spread.

Yesterday, mothers with young children who knew the Jamison children flocked to the house, holding their toddlers and wiping away tears.

At 8 p.m., about 300 people gathered at the Jamison house for a prayer vigil.

"Father, thank you for bringing us together -- and reminding us that life is short," prayed Patricia Homberg, a Dundalk resident whose son played with the Jamison children.

Homberg stood at the center of a crowd that lined the sidewalk and spilled into the street, which was closed by police. Many in the crowd held candles. Flowers, stuffed animals and toys had been lined up in front of the Jamison residence, as well as six long-stemmed red roses -- each bearing a victim's name.

Among those who left flowers earlier was Harry Walker, principal of Norwood Elementary School, where Brandon McCready was a second-grade pupil and Jacob Jamison was in fifth grade.

"All four of the children went to Norwood at one time," Walker said, tucking a pink cone of blossom into the fence at the house. "It was a tragic loss -- I wanted to pay my respects."

The mood was just as somber yesterday at Norwood, where counselors were available to help pupils and teachers deal with the deaths of the well-known pupils.

Walker said a letter was to be sent home yesterday to parents to inform them of the fire and encourage them to talk with their children about the tragedy.

Roxanne Bennett left the school in tears with her visibly shaken 10-year-old daughter, Megan, in tow.

Her daughter was a classmate of Jacob Jamison's, Bennett said, and after receiving the news yesterday, she was unable to return to the classroom they had shared.

"She can't take it," Bennett said. "I used to always tease her about Jacob because he was so cute and I would say that I was going to fix them up."

Bennett said she planned to take the school's advice and talk with her daughter.

"I'm going to go home and check all of my smoke alarms and extinguishers," she said.

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Dennis O'Brien and Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/04/99

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