Fire near Pawnee, Seneca leaves one dead

Authorities are investigating the cause of a fire Tuesday afternoon that killed a person whose body was found on the driveway between a vehicle and house near Pawnee and Seneca.

The person was dead from burns when firefighters arrived about 1 p.m. in the 800 block of West Savannah, Wichita Battalion Chief Tom Carney said.

Carney wouldn’t identify the victim or say whether the person was a man or woman. Matthew Haner, son of the woman who lives at the house, said his mother was safe and at work at the time of the fire.

The vehicle, a GMC Yukon, belonged to his mother’s estranged boyfriend, Haner said.

“My mom has a restraining order against him,” he said, “and she recently had her locks changed.”

Sedgwick County District Court records showed his mother had a temporary restraining order from stalking issued Thursday against David M. Conner, 61. A court hearing is set for Oct. 17.

Haner said his mother’s former boyfriend was from Key West, Fla. The Yukon parked about 10 feet from the attached garage had a Florida license plate.

His mother is divorced and started seeing Conner about a month ago before breaking up two weeks later, Haner said.

Carney said when firefighters arrived they found the Yukon fully engulfed in flames that were extending into the soffit area along the garage. After knocking down those flames, the crews found an extensive amount of fire in the attic.

The fire was out in a matter of minutes, Carney said.

The victim was found between the front of the Yukon and the front of the garage, he added.

Carney said officials think the fire started with the vehicle but investigators were still working the scene.

“It’s going to take a while,” he said.

Those responding to the scene included District Attorney Marc Bennett, Wichita police homicide Lt. Todd Ojile, Fire Chief Ron Blackwell and federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

That kind of response is normal for a fatality fire, Carney said.

Matthew Tweedy, a neighbor, and Peter Wright, who was trimming trees nearby, were among the first to arrive at the scene.

Tweedy broke out a rear window and entered the smoke-filled house. He didn’t find anyone inside, but he did rescue one of two large poodles. The other poodle either escaped on its own or was pulled out by a firefighter, Tweedy said.

“We were just leaving to get some lunch,” Tweedy said as he stood across the street with his wife and two young children. “I saw the smoke, but I didn’t see any fire trucks.”

Wright said, “The SUV was on fire, the house was on fire. We didn’t know if anyone was in there or not.”

The left tire of the Yukon exploded as they approached the house. They didn’t check the vehicle.

“We didn’t know anyone was near it,” Wright said. “But we weren’t too sure about getting too close to the vehicle.”

Carney estimated the loss in the fire at $30,000 for the house and $10,000 to contents. The estimate didn’t include damage to the Yukon, he said.

Contributing: Hurst Laviana of The Eagle

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