Afraid to jump, teen dies in New Kensington fire

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A massive fire killed a teenaged boy staying overnight at a friend's house in New Kensington Wednesday, destroying the home and injuring five other people, one critically.

The three-alarm blaze erupted at about 6:30 a.m. on Seventh Street near Spruce Street, said New Kensington First Assistant Fire Chief Ed Saliba Jr.

The family that lived there -- Amy Mazziotti, her boyfriend, and her teenaged sons Nino and Vincent Mazziotti -- jumped to safety, but all four were hospitalized at UPMC Mercy.

Two more teens, friends of the sons, had stayed at the house overnight. One was pronounced dead at the scene. The other, Camron Loftesness, was taken to UPMC Mercy in critical condition.

Wednesday night, the Westmoreland County coroner's office was still working to identify the body of the boy who died. His grandmother asked the Post-Gazette to withhold his name until the coroner confirmed his death.

But members of the boy's youth group at a nearby church -- The River -- who gathered by the blackened house to mourn, said that he was a 15-year-old student at Valley Senior High School, a lovable troublemaker and class clown.

Afraid of heights, the boy was trapped and unable to jump, said Drew Holmes, 18, of Burrell.

"He was like a little brother to me," said Mr. Holmes. "I always watched after him."

A proud member of the high school's football team, the boy -- still small for his age -- was eager to defend his reputation. He had been in his fair share of fights, said the youth group's pastor, Donna Scholl, of Vandergrift.

Still, he meant well, and had a wide circle of friends, Ms. Scholl said: "He will be missed."

"He was quite a comedian," said another friend, Anthony Czajkowski, 21, of New Kensington. "He really knew how to cheer someone up."

Wednesday, the state police fire marshal's office and the New Kensington police were investigating the fire. The blaze had gutted the house -- redone by Habitat for Humanity several years ago -- crumbling walls, blowing out windows and collapsing the roof.

"There were probably 20- or 30-foot flames just coming out of everywhere," said Rick Phillips, 52, of New Kensington, who saw the fire from a nearby gas station.

Ms. Mazziotti and her boyfriend escaped by jumping from a porch, said Assistant Chief Saliba. Ms. Mazziotti's sons jumped from a window, he said.

The family also had multiple pets, but apparently only one escaped, said Kelley McComb, 48, a neighbor who cared for their dog, Ozzy, for several hours after the fire.

"I just send them all my prayers, because, God, they need it after this," said. Ms. McComb. "To lose everything. It's only a few days after Christmas."

Another neighbor said that when she heard the commotion, she went outside to find Ms. Mazziotti, her boyfriend and one boy standing in the clothes they had slept in, shouting.

Ms. Mazziotti had hurt her arm, and the boy's foot was badly cut, said the neighbor, Jackie, who declined to give her last name. They were coughing, their faces covered in soot.

"They were just sitting here screaming, helpless, helpless," she said.

Mr. Holmes said the youth group quickly learned of their friend's death through phone calls and text messages. By Wednesday night, a Facebook page created in the boy's memory had more than 700 members.

"He was the sweetest kid in the world," said another youth group member, Angel Angelovich, 14, of Burrell. "He was always happy, he was always fun. If he frowned, he was joking around."

Wednesday night, Ms. Mazziotti was listed in serious condition at UPMC Mercy. Her boyfriend and both of her sons were listed in fair condition. Mr. Loftesness was listed in critical condition.

No firefighters were hurt battling the blaze, Chief Saliba said.

"We were very fortunate on that end," he said. "Unfortunately, a young person was killed."

Vivian Nereim: or 412-263-1413.


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