SBI: No Evidence Of Smoke Detectors In Pittman Home

State investigators say there was no evidence of smoke detectors in a home where three children were killed last week in Onslow County.

Tabitha Pittman, 12, Elijah Pittman, 8, and Gabriel Pittman, 6, died last Thursday after fire ripped through their home on Wilmington Highway. Sheriff Ed Brown says all three were on the first floor of the home and investigators believe the older child was possibly trying to get the other two out.

Five other children and their mother were injured in the fire.

SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley said she they can confirm that investigators found no evidence of smoke detectors in the home.

Last week volunteer fire department officials said because of the extensive damage inside the home, it would be difficult to find any evidence of smoke detectors.

Susan Cottle, who's family owns the home, told WITN News that they're declining any official comment until the investigation is complete, but says they are confident there were smoke detectors in the home.

A state law on the books since 1996 says all residential rental property must have smoke detectors installed when renters occupy a home.


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State investigators say a fire that killed three children last week in Onslow County was caused by an electrical malfunction in the home's refrigerator.

Tabitha Pittman, 12, Elijah Pittman, 8, and Gabriel Pittman, 6, died a week ago after fire ripped through their home on Wilmington Highway. Sheriff Ed Brown says all three were on the first floor of the home and investigators believe the older child was possibly trying to get the other two out.

Their mother, and five of her other children were injured in the fire.

SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley tells WITN News that the fire has been ruled accidental and that it began in the area around the refrigerator.

Johnetta Pittman, the children's mother, and her 10-year-old daughter Hannah remain at the burn center in Chapel Hill. Several other children have already been released from area hospitals.


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Two more of the children who survived that fatal house fire near Jacksonville are out of the hospital.

The twins, 15-year-olds Adrienne and Gabrielle Pittman were released from New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington Sunday, a hospital official tells WITN. He did not have information on 16-year-old Samantha Pittman, who had been listed in good condition late last week.

Johnetta Pittman, the children's mother, and her 10-year-old daughter Hannah remain at the burn center in Chapel Hill. A family member both are in critical, but stable condition.

The 4-year-old, Jonathan, was treated and released from Onslow Memorial Hospital on Thursday after the fire that killed three of his siblings.

A preliminary report says an electrical short may have caused the fire.

No funeral arrangements have been announced.


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Investigators say a preliminary report says an electrical short may have caused yesterday's fire that killed three children in Onslow County.

Tabitha Pittman, 12, Elijah Pittman, 8, and Gabriel Pittman, 6, died in the fire at their home on Wilmington Highway. Sheriff Ed Brown says all three were on the first floor of the home and investigators believe the older child was possibly trying to get the other two out.

The sheriff says a preliminary report by the ATF, SBI and the Onslow County Sheriff's Office indicates the cause of the fire was possibly an electrical short in the kitchen area.

There were a total of eight children and their mother in the two story home.

Samantha Pittman, 16, and her twin sisters Adrianne and Gabrielle, 15, are listed in good condition at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. Their mom, Johnetta, and sister Hannah, 10, were taken to the burn center in Chapel Hill.

The Sheriff's Office says the daughter has 3rd degree burns on her hands, arms, face and part of her back while the mother is having respiratory issues from smoke inhalation. The father, Sammy Pittman, tells deputies both are doing well considering what they've been through.

Another child, four-year-old Jonathan, was released from Onslow Memorial Hospital on Thursday.

The Red Cross is stepping in to help the Pittman family. Because they're now spread out to different hospitals, the Red Cross in several regions is lending a hand. They're helping with lodging, food and clothing as well as emotional and mental health support for the family members involved.



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Officials have now released the names of three children killed in a morning house fire outside of Jacksonville.

Sheriff Ed Brown says 12-year-old Tabitha Pittman, 8-year-old Elijah Pittman, and 6-year-old Gabriel Pittman died in the fire at their home. The ages of the children have now been confirmed by their grandfather.

Brown says all three children were on the first floor of the home and investigators believe there is a good possibility that the older child was trying to get the other two out.

Onslow County Emergency Manager Norman Bryson says the call about the fire at 2124 Wilmington Highway came in at 5:21 a.m. Bryson says there were nine people in the home, which is a large, older two-story structure, when the fire broke out.

The bodies of the three children were removed from the home around 12:30 p.m.

Those injured were the children's mother, Johnetta Pittman, and her five other children. They are 16-year-old Samantha, 15-year-old twins Adrianne and Gabrielle, 10-year-old Hannah and 4-year-old Johnathan Pittman. Authorities say the twins suffered impact injuries after they jumped from a second floor window.

Those victims were taken to hospitals in Jacksonville and Wilmington, while the mother and one daughter are now at the Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel HIll.

The children's father was at work when the fire happened.

To view more pictures, click the PHOTOS tab at the top of the story

There is no cause yet to the fire, and the State Bureau of Investigation is assisting the Sheriff's Office with the case. Brown would not speculate whether a passing lightning storm caused the fire.

The family has lost everything in the fire. CLICK HERE to learn how to make a donation.

Tragically, this is not the first time the Pittman family has lost their home to fire. A family friend tells WITN that about eight years ago their home in Richlands also caught fire. At the time, a local furniture store donated furniture for their new home, while the owner of the home that burned this morning heard about the first fire and offered that house for rent.



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Officials in Onslow County say three children died in a house fire in Verona this morning. The mother and one child are in the process of being taken to the Chapel Hill Burn Center while another child has been treated and released from the hospital.

The SBI has been called to investigate the fatal fire.

WITN's Carly Swain is on the scene and reports the fire happened at the home of Samuel and Johnetta Pittman, according to a family friend. Three of their children died. Five other children were taken to area hospitals, along with the mother. Two deputies were sent to OMH for smoke inhalation.

Samuel Pittman, the father in the family, was working overnight; he was not at home when the fire started.

The family has lost everything in the fire. People wanting to donate furniture, clothing or money can take it to the Onslow County Sheriff's Office. You can also contact Walter Scott at the Sheriff's Office. His phone number is (910) 389-4685.

Onslow County Emergency Manager Norman Bryson says the call about the fire at 2124 Wilmington Highway came in at 5:21 a.m. Bryson says there were nine people in the home, which is a large, older two story structure, when the fire broke out. Two of the victims were transported to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, while four were taken to Onslow Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville.

Four fire departments were dispatched. Crews arrived on scene to find smoke and flames shooting from the house. The fire was out after 40 minutes of fighting it.

Officials do not have any preliminary information on what caused the fire at this time. In fact, they are still trying to make sure the scene is safe enough for investigators to enter to begin their probe of the fire that claimed three young lives.

Tragically, this is not the first time the Pittman family has lost their home to fire. A family friend tells WITN that about eight years ago their home in Richlands also caught fire. At the time, a local furniture store donated furniture for their new home, while the owner of the home that burned this morning heard about the first fire and offered that house for rent.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Shine Location: NE NC on Mar 3, 2012 at 09:28 AM
    I am very sorry for the loss of life and injury. Instead of 'blaming the blame' let's 'fix the problem'. The other is horrible but it is water that has already gone under the bridge.
  • by Anonymous on Mar 2, 2012 at 02:12 PM
    my old refrigerator groans, moans and quits till it thaws itself out occasionally. Have seven working smoke alarms for I do not trust any of the many electrical things in my abode.
  • by Bobbie Location: Greenville on Mar 2, 2012 at 02:07 PM
    I cant imagine the pain this family is having to endure having lost 3 children. I truly feel for the Pittmans and pray the Lord lightens their load. Losing a child is an unspeakable pain to the heart.
  • by wow Location: pitt co on Mar 2, 2012 at 10:04 AM
    Dear witn,
    Ever use spell or grammar check? Even a 3rd grader could do better!
  • by Alex Location: Emerald Isle on Mar 2, 2012 at 09:15 AM
    An amazing selfless 12 year old sister gave herself in attempt to save her little brothers lives. I am sure the FD with the best ETA took the call.
    • reply
      by I'm sorry that lives were lost on Mar 2, 2012 at 03:39 PM in reply to Alex
      I do doubt the Fire Department responded as quickly as possible. I think more experienced people should be involved with our public servant groups. More oversight basically.....
      • reply
        by smoke alarms save lives on Mar 2, 2012 at 09:38 PM in reply to I'm sorry that lives were lost
        That can easily be arranged with higher taxes for said services.
  • by Joshua Location: Greene County on Feb 29, 2012 at 09:01 PM
    As someone who worked for Mr.Pittman for 5 years, side by side, I am truly sorry to hear this. I met one of the children who had passed and one of the surviving, they both were well mannered, well behaved, and full of life. Sammy, I'm praying for you man.
  • by some questîons on Feb 29, 2012 at 05:56 PM
    There is alot of things we don't know about this. When was it called in? How much of the house was involded? How long did it take for the departments to get on scene? Etc..... asking CLFD is a good idea, but we need to ask, they aren't part of OnslowvCounty. Please think about all of that before you blame the Firefighters.
  • by gypsy's gmama Location: enc on Feb 29, 2012 at 03:48 PM
    Our thanks to ALL Emergency Response Teams. Volunteer or paid, it makes no difference to me. The fact is people, you will be glad to see ANY HELP COMING when you are trying to save your family. Our BRAVE first responders do a job most of you could not handle , so give thanks. And participate in those fund raisers next time. The life they save could be yours. Prayers to the Pittman Family.
  • by Anonymous on Feb 29, 2012 at 02:19 PM
    Hey armchair fire chiefs, the ones who want "better prepared" Firefighters, suit up and join us, or just hush, you don't know what you are talking about. It's people like you who make the job more difficult for us.
  • by Anonymous Location: NC on Feb 29, 2012 at 01:03 PM
    I guarantee you it was the compressor relay that caused the fire. I worked for an appliance repair company and we had to continuously replace the sub-standard factory relays and take photographs of the charred floors underneath for insurance purposes.
    • reply
      by Formerly O.L.I. on Mar 2, 2012 at 10:55 AM in reply to Anonymous
      Great info! I didn't know those could be a fire hazard! We had one replaced a few years ago, as the side-by-side quit chilling, even though it was running. We threw out $75 food. Our great handyman replaced that relay for a nominal fee and labor. How grateful I am that we didn't suffer a fire.
    • reply
      by SBrown on Mar 2, 2012 at 12:59 PM in reply to Anonymous
      Had it happen to me shortly after I moved into my house. Fridge had been making a funny noise then I smelled electrical - grabbed the phone and dog and high tailed it out. Fire dept came out of the house kind of giggling saying it was the only time they have seen a unit burned to that degree but food still frozen - they even asked if they could take it for inspection and subsequent learning tool - My smoke detector (3 mos old) did not go off and tested by fire dept fine and they stated that location was perfect - because it started as an electrical fire and they don't detect the slow smolder that was encased in the fridge, it's not until a wall or something ignites. I was fortunate enough to hear the funny noise (which was kinda loud) and smell the electrical burn when I did.
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