Neighbors remember disabled man who died in fire

Neighbors and friends of a 30-year-old man who died Thursday night in a house fire at 1622 79th Ave., described him as a respectable and loving person who overcame a physical disability and the limits it placed on his life to become a good friend to those who knew him.

Angela Lewis, 28, said Jonas Spears, who died in the fire, lost both his legs when he was about 2 or 3 years old from a railroad accident.

“He didn’t let his disability stop him,” said Lewis, who lives across the street from the house where the fatal fire occurred. “I remember when I was in high school and he had gotten some prosthetic legs and he was going to the dance. He had on his nice jeans and he would walk on his prosthetics with his crutches.”

Tameka Polk, 35, who lives about four houses down from Lewis, said some people were wary of Jonas Spears’ sometimes odd behavior, because they did not understand him as a person. He would ride around in his wheelchair with shorts on and show off where his legs were amputated, which people in the neighborhood grew accustomed to, she said.

Polk said Spears may have seemed off to people who didn’t know him, especially those passing by a Chevron gas station near Spears’ house where he liked to hang out. But, she said, going though life as “a kid with no legs to a man with no legs,” was understandably difficult.

As of Friday afternoon, the cause of the fatal fire is under investigation, Baton Rouge Fire Department spokesman Robert Combs said Friday.

Baton Rouge Fire Department firefighters responded to the fire at 9:58 p.m. and saved Jonas Spears’ father, Willie Spears Sr., but were unable to find Jonas Spears, Combs said.

Lewis said there was so much smoke it initially looked like a fog descended upon the area. She said she ran across the street screaming to Jonas and Willie to get to the back of the house because it seemed that only the front of the house was on fire.

“Right before the firetrucks got here, you could see the flames getting bigger and you could hear windows popping,” Lewis said. “You could hear crackling. Things were falling from the outside of the house.”

She said she could hear Jonas Spears’ screams coming from the back of the house as firefighters struggled to extinguish the blaze.

Sitting in her kitchen Friday afternoon, she said she could still hear his cries for help.

“My heart hurts,” she said.

Firefighters also heard cries for help and found Willie Spears Sr. yelling for help from the back of the house, Combs said.

Firefighters found him trapped in a bathroom at the back of the house by burglary bars, which firefighters had to rip from the wall to remove him from the burning house, Combs said.

He told them he had a son inside and firefighters entered the house but were unable to find Jonas Spears in time, Combs said.

He might have been covered in debris from the ceiling, which would have hindered firefighters’ search efforts, Combs said.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William “Beau” Clark said Jonas Spears died of carbon monoxide exposure.

He said he sent a blood sample to a hospital to test for carbon monoxide poisoning and his blood levels came back at about 70 percent.

Clark said anything above 60 percent is fatal.

He added Jonas Spears did not have any direct burns, but did have indirect heat exposure.

The fire started in the kitchen before spreading to other areas of the home, Combs said. Nearly 60 percent of the home was damaged by fire.