It was all Patricia Snyder could do to grab her 7-year-old twins and get out of the burning house.
The owner of the home, 47-year-old Troy LaValley, did not.
LaValley is believed to have perished in the Thursday morning fire on Chestnut Grove Road in the Mt. Zion community.
“There has been a body recovered from the house,” said Sheriff Jackie Matheny. “The identity has not been confirmed. That will require dental records.”
Mr. LaValley was reportedly sleeping in a second-floor bedroom near the spot where the fire is believed to have originated. The first witnesses on the scene said the fire was pouring from that part of the house. While law enforcement officials have not confirmed the body to be that of Mr. Lavalley, he was there the night before and his vehicle was still in the driveway Thursday morning.
Snyder said she tried to reach him, but the overwhelming smoke was impossible to penetrate.
“I was frantic,” said Snyder, who escaped in her pajamas. “I woke up and there was smoke everywhere. I grabbed my kids and got them out of there. One was still in his underwear. I couldn’t get upstairs to him. The smoke was too thick.”
Several nearby residents rushed to help when they saw the heavy smoke. One of those was neighbor Freda Reynolds.
“I was banging on the door hollering for them to get out,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds added, “All the flames were shooting out from upstairs. When I got inside I started beating on the walls and yelling, ‘Get out! Get out!’ I was yelling as loud as I could. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have gotten upstairs.”
Passing motorist Danny Hutchins saw the flames and stopped. When he was told someone was still in the house, he tried to enter.
“There was too much smoke,” said Hutchins. “There was no way you could go in there.”
Volunteer firefighters with Viola and Morrison battled the blaze all morning. The combination of smoke, flames and the unsteadiness of the structure made it impossible for them to enter until the fire was extinguished.
According to his Facebook page, Mr. LaValley was a former Army veteran who served as an Abrams heavy tank commander. He was married to his wife, Jannett, for 28 years.
Sheriff Matheny said the fire is believed to be accidental. He said the cause is not known.
Several dogs and cats were inside the home when the fire erupted. At least one dog made it out, but it’s believed most of the animals perished.
The home is located in a remote part of the county near the Grundy County line in the general Viola area.