Boy dies as fire destroys house

The Baltimore Sun

When Carter and Bernice Myer got to their waterfront home in Millers Island yesterday morning after hearing it was engulfed in flames, they couldn't focus on the fire. Nobody could find their grandson, Jacob, who lived at the house between weekend stays with his parents.

Bernice Myer ran to a nearby field where she figured Jacob might be.

"I thought, him being a boy, being 11, maybe he was playing with a lighter or matches and then got scared," she said. "I ran to that field and started yelling his name, telling him he wasn't in trouble."

But Jacob "Jake" Grey, an honor roll student at Edgemere Elementary who loved math and was excited to attend Sparrows Point Middle School in September, wasn't in the field. He was found dead in the home's second-floor office, huddled in a corner and buried under rubble from the collapsed roof, said a Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman.

"They had to throw debris out the window before they found him," said Elise Armacost, the spokeswoman.

The Hinton Avenue home, now a charred, caved-in structure with melted siding peeling away, was only a few years old. It stands where the Myer's previous home was before Tropical Storm Isabel destroyed it in 2003. The new home was built only after Bernice Myer, a retired city homicide detective, helped lead a battle against insurance companies after Isabel devastated the community.

"First Isabel, and then for this to happen," said Joanne Lamka, who lives down the street from Myer. "It's so sad."

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. yesterday, the fire department received word of a house fire, but had no information on whether anyone was inside, Armacost said. Firefighters tried to enter the home, but the fire was "so bad and so intense" that it was too dangerous to enter, she said.

Several propane tanks had exploded, making the fire worse, she said. Firefighters spent five to 10 minutes hosing it down from the outside, and then entered and began working their way through house, she said.

At 11:45 a.m., firefighters searching through and clearing debris on the second floor found the boy's body, Armacost said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Two adults who had been in the house when the fire started - Richard Conroy Sr., Bernice Myer's father, and Richard Conroy Jr., her brother - escaped unhurt, Myer said. They thought Jacob was out playing in the neighborhood when they ran out of the house, she said.

"Being that it's summertime, he'd be outside riding his bike, waiting for us," she said. "I'd get home and he'd say, 'Come on, Nana, let's go swimming."

Myer said Jacob loved staying at her waterfront Millers Island home. She said she had bought him a bike last week, and they'd been going on bike rides together. Myer said she always wore a helmet to set a good example.

When Jacob wasn't outside, he would play computer games or sit with his grandmother and laugh as they told each other imaginary stories, a favorite activity of theirs. He had dreams of becoming a writer or a photographer, but also told his grandmother that he was going to be a detective like her, Myer said.

"You don't know how important people are until they're gone," she said. "Everybody should take an extra second out of their day to make sure the people they love know it."

Neighbors in the community on the northeastern tip of North Point said yesterday they were devastated by Jacob's death, and also by the house being burned. They credit Myer with being their voice against the insurance companies and a major reason why their own homes were repaired or rebuilt. It was Myer's role as a community activist that helped her present herself as a viable candidate for a seat on the county council in 2006.

"She's the one who spearheaded the fight after Isabel," said Robert Hart, who lives two houses down and who took over for her as the president of the Millers Island Community Association after her term ended in January last year. "She's given so much to the community."

Cindy Hoyt, another neighbor, said she saw the house quickly go from smoking to blazing. "Within 15 minutes, it was totally engulfed," she said. "It was just terrible."

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