Hoarding blamed in fire death


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An 83-year-old woman, well-known in the community for the items she amassed in her home, as well as her political and charitable work, was killed when her Bethel Park house caught fire this morning.

Fire Chief Dave Gerber said having so much stuff fueled the fire. "She was definitely a hoarder. It makes it harder. It makes it burn a lot faster."

Over the years, Liz Cutone of 85 Highland Road was valued for her political and charitable work, but also the subject of complaints for her lack of tidiness.

Raw video: Bethel Park fire claims life

A woman dwas killed when her Bethel Park house caught fire this morning. (Raw video by Darrell Sapp; 6/1/2012)

Ms. Cutone was cited about a dozen times from the late 1970s to 2006 for clutter in her yard and overgrown grass, said Rodney Sarver, a Bethel Park building code official.

"She did community service once," Mr. Sarver said. "She also did community service on her own. She would deliver food for the homeless."

Neighbors described old sofas, broken televisions and end tables among her many possessions.

"Whenever I put something on the street, she took it," said Namil Hajjar, 82, who lives down the street.

PG VIDEO

"That van was packed to the gills," said Martin Ryczkowski, 66, a neighbor in Bethel Park.

Sometimes the van was filled with bread that she brought to local charities.

Don Harrison, 84, a Bethel Park councilman, valued Ms. Cutone for her political advocacy.

"People called her the 'sign lady' because she always had signs for candidates in her yard," he said. "You'd go by and she'd have six or seven signs."

Mr. Harrison said Ms. Cutone was a presence at council meetings and in local campaigns, a major boost in distributing campaign literature and collecting signatures on petitions.

"She supported me from day one," said Mr. Harrison, who has been a Republican councilman for decades. "She was a Republican through and through."

"I saw her on TV a lot at the council meetings," Mr. Ryczkowski said. "She was opposed to any kind of new development, the new high school, the new recreation center."

Mr. Harrison said she particularly opposed the construction of the Village Square Mall about 25 years ago.

The smoke at 85 Highland Road was reported around 5 a.m. When firefighters arrived, the blaze had already been burning for more than an hour and was fierce, Chief Gerber said.

Firefighters tried to force their way in but the heat and smoke pushed them back, said Don Brucker, Allegheny County chief deputy fire marshal.

They were able to contain the fire in less than an hour.

At about 9 a.m., as they demolished the charred remnants of the house looking for its resident, firefighters found Ms. Cutone's body on the first floor. Mr. Brucker said there was no sign she tried to escape.

Wayne Bock, 79, who has lived across the street from Ms. Cutone for 37 years, said she called him Thursday night at about 9:30 p.m.

"She was very depressed," he said. "She said if she had a gun she would kill herself."

Mr. Bock said he then strongly discouraged her from doing so and told her he would come over the next day.

"She said, 'You come over and look in the garage and take anything no charge,' " he said.

Mr. Bock said one of her friends had recently died and her driver's license had been revoked, deepening her depression. Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire.

neigh_south

Peter Sullivan: psullivan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939. First Published June 2, 2012 4:00 AM


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