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Smoking Linked to Md. Man's Death in Fire

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page B04

A fire that killed a 22-year-old Bethesda man and two other Miami University students in Ohio last week started when smoking materials ignited a couch in a first-floor living room, investigators said yesterday.

Stephen J. Smith, a senior marketing major, died of breathing super-heated air as he tried to escape the house, located near the school's Oxford campus, a coroner's report found. His body was found near the front door.

The other victims -- Kathryn Welling, 21, a junior from Bronxville, N.Y., and Julia Turnbull, 21, a senior from Milford, Ohio -- died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the report said. The women, both guests, were found in second-floor bedrooms.

Oxford Fire Chief Len Endress said investigators could not specify what type of smoking materials caused last Sunday morning's fire, which they ruled accidental. He said that the living room was occupied until about 3:30 a.m. and that the fire started about 4:30 a.m.

The house had 18 smoke detectors on each floor, but a few on the second floor did not have batteries, Endress said. The detectors that did work woke most of the students, he said. Eight of them survived.

Butler County Coroner Richard P. Burkhardt wrote in his report that the three victims were "highly intoxicated," with blood alcohol levels three times the state's legal limit for drivers.

Endress said he did not know whether intoxication had an effect on their ability to get out of the house.

Smith, a popular student who had recently made the dean's list, was buried yesterday near his childhood home in Bethesda. He had graduated from the Landon School in Bethesda.

"It was a tragic accident," said Smith's father, Fred Smith, an oncologist. "No one could have foreseen it. . . . They thought they were safe in their home."

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