Friends, family baffled by killer blaze

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A Smith County couple is dead, killed in an unusual house fire. Sheriff's deputies responded to a welfare call Tuesday night from a concerned family member. They found the bodies of 58-year-old Lester and 60-year-old Nelda Battee inside their home on County Road 3159. It's still unknown when the deadly the fire actually broke out. But, relatives said the last time they heard from the couple was around 7:30 Monday night.

Yellow crime scene tape is the only signal something went wrong. From out in front of the house, things appeared to be normal, but up close, cracked, smoked-out windows were the only clue authorities needed once they arrived.

"[The deputy] knocked on the front door - [there was] no answer," said Connie McCoy-Wasson, the Assistant Smith County Fire Marshal. "[He] went around to the back and knocked on the door. No [one] answer[ed]. [He] looked in the back kitchen window and he did see, Mr. Battee."

Battee was on the floor, near the front door. Later on, investigators found Mrs. Battee's body in the hallway.

"They did appear that they were trying to get out," said McCoy-Wasson.

Authorities say the fire sucked up so much oxygen, it put itself out.

"When we got there, it was cooled down," said McCoy-Wasson. "We still had air conditioning units running."

"I just can't believe that this has happened," said Margie "Penny" Jackson, a family friend.

Friends and family gathered at Mrs. Battee's family home.

"They were both retired," said Penny Jackson. "She just had a birthday. She was the sweetest person in the world."

"She laughed really big," said Beverly Jackson, a sister-in-law to the Battees. "We never in our wildest dreams believed we'd be going through this."

Beverly Jackson says the family was all together just this past Labor Day.

"We pull together," she said. "This is where we get our strength. We're just going to miss them."

...and, never forget them.

"He was more like a brother than a brother-in-law," Mariland Jackson said of Mr. Battee.

"If they were here right now, he'd be telling me, 'Sister-in-law, put some music on, I'm ready to dance!'" said Beverly Jackson.

"They're just wonderful people," said Penny Jackson.

The investigation is ongoing, but authorities say the fire may have started sometime Monday night in the living room of the home. Autopsy results are still pending.

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