Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA) - May 22, 2006
Patricia H. Winstead: Despite rescue efforts, woman dies after blaze engulfs house
VIRGINIA BEACH - A woman who was pulled from her burning home Saturday after desperate rescue efforts by neighbors and firefighters has died.
A firefighter who tried to save her was injured and is recovering.
The victim, identified Sunday as Patricia H. Winstead, 70, died after arriving at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
Her husband, William T. Winstead, 69, who also was pulled from the fire and suffered a heart attack, was listed in critical condition Sunday at the hospital. Neighbors said he is a retired First Colonial High School teacher.
The blaze was reported about 5 p.m. in the 3200 block of Lark St. in the Princess Anne Plaza neighborhood, Battalion Chief David Hutcheson said.
A neighbor said he thinks the woman may have been the first to call for help.
Instead of escaping, he thinks she gave her life trying to rescue her husband, for whom she had long cared .
"He was totally dependent on her for everything," said Josh Zwirn, 29, a city public works employee who lives across the street .
Zwirn said he was the first to reach the couple's front steps when smoke started spreading across the neighborhood .
He said he found the Winstead's cordless phone dropped outside the front door.
"She came out, she called 911 and she went back in to help," Zwirn said. "I'm sure. … With all that smoke, she didn't have a chance. I don't know how she got back in there."
Zwirn said he ducked the increasingly heavy smoke coming out the front door and started hollering. After a few shouts, she answered.
"I could hear her over the crackling and everything else," Zwirn said. "She was probably about nine, 10 feet away in the hallway. But with all that smoke pouring out, it seemed like a mile away."
"She told me, 'Help! I can't move,' and then, 'Help!' one more time," Zwirn said, "and then it kind of went faint."
The smoke and heat were too much for him to move in. Another neighbor, armed with wet rags over his face, tried to get in, Zwirn said.
Zwirn then ran to the back of the home, believing William Winstead might be in his bedroom .
"I beat the glass in with my hand like an idiot," said Zwirn, who cut himself. "Then I found a board."
After breaking the glass, he yelled inside.
"Sure enough, he was laying on the bed, saying, 'Help.' I said, 'Can you get to the window?'" But the man said he couldn't move.
"He's yelling 'help' while I'm beating the window in," Zwirn said, his voice cracking briefly as he recounted the moment.
Unable to break enough of the window to get in, Zwirn grabbed a nearby garden hose .
He hooked it up and turned it on, but it was old. No water came from the nozzle.
"By then, the back was engulfed" in smoke and flame, Zwirn said. That's when a firefighter grabbed him and told him to get to safety.
Zwirn told the firefighter where the man was and retreated.
"That's all I could do," Zwirn said. "I got answers from both of them, that was the hard part."
By the time firefighters arrived, four minutes after the first calls came in, the home was largely overrun by flames.
"It wasn't your normal room and contents fire," Hutcheson said. "The whole left side of the structure was on fire. It was up in the attic and burning through the roof."
Crews fought their way inside within minutes to reach the trapped couple.
"One crew was holding the fire in check," training a hose on the house, Hutcheson said, while "the other crews were searching."
In the process, "some of the ceiling gave way" and fell on one firefighter, Hutcheson said. That knocked the man's breathing mask off "and he got a couple breaths of the heated gases."
The firefighter was taken to Sentara Virginia Beach General for treatment and was released, Hutcheson said. Hutcheson did not identify him .
"They did everything they could," Hutcheson said. "These guys put it on the line and took a lot of heat to try and get to them."
About 30 firefighters, five engine trucks and two ladder trucks responded to the blaze.
Once rescue crews found the couple, they pulled them outside. Both had stopped breathing and paramedics immediately began performing CPR .
"They took them all the way to the hospital performing CPR," Hutcheson said. "Enroute, they got pulses back" on the Winsteads .
The home was gutted.
Fire investigators made an initial survey Saturday night and returned to the scene after things had cooled down Sunday. There was still no word on a cause. The fire is believed to have started in the living room, Hutcheson said.
Zwirn on Sunday said he was trying to feel glad that William Winstead was holding on, but he couldn't help but wonder who would care for the man now.
"She was the stronger one," Zwirn said of Patricia Winstead . "But she is the one who didn't make it."
By Steve Stone at (757) 446-2309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.