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Half decade passes since fireworks tragedy

SCOTTOWN – It was five years ago today when this quiet Lawrence County community was rocked by a tragedy that sent grief and loss through the area and held the attention of the world.

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

SCOTTOWN – It was five years ago today when this quiet Lawrence County community was rocked by a tragedy that sent grief and loss through the area and held the attention of the world.

On July 3, 1996, a 24-year-old man, Todd M. Hall of Proctorville, walked into Ohio River Fireworks and allegedly started a fire that would cost nine people their lives and injure scores more.

Today, survivors and community members will meet at a memorial dedicated to those who died in the tragic fire and honor their memories.

The memories of the day are fresh even though the years have passed. Kay Stevenson, owner of Nana’s, a store in Scottown, said she can still remember the day’s events. She said she remembers watching the event unfold on television newscasts.

"I didn’t know anyone in the store at that time, thank God," she said.

Stevenson said she, like many of her neighbors, frequented the fireworks store. She said her family had gone to the store the night before the tragedy to purchase fireworks. Stevenson said she has never gone to another fireworks shop since then. She said the risks outweigh the benefits. "I’ll go watch fireworks," she said, "but I don’t go and buy them anymore."

The fire that ravaged through the store, according to witnesses, was intense and community members rallied together to help save the lives of their neighbors.

Frank Meehling, a 25 year old Huntington, W.Va. man who was at the store with his wife, was interviewed by reporters the day of the fire. He worked to save the lives of his neighbors. In the interview Meehling said, "I just started pulling people out. I was grabbing them by the hair of their heads, their arms, just anything I could get hold of."

Four volunteer fire departments responded to the crisis – the same day the county switched on its 911 system – and the firefighters shared their feelings with reporters after the embers had stopped burning.

Michael Boster, a firefighter for Rome Township, was a member of the relief crew that responded to the blaze. After the fire was out, Boster and other firefighters had to complete their next chore – searching for the remains of victims.

In an interview four days after the disaster, Boster said, "Our task was to dig through the ashes and look for more victims. This was difficult for me because for the last couple of years, I’ve been teaching fire prevention in schools."

One family was hit hard by the tragedy. Frank and Linda Carmon of Coal Grove lost three family members in the blaze. Their son, Ryan David Aldridge, 24; granddaughter Shelbi Cron, 2; and Shelbi’s mother, Misti Cron, 21; all perished in the fire.

The trio went to the fireworks store because Ryan David thought his daughter, a "daddy’s girl," would like to have some fireworks for the Fourth of July.

Out of the ashes, the family was left to deal with the loss in their family. Mrs. Carmon was resigned to cleaning out the family’s apartment and take home the memories of her fallen family members. Despite the personal pain and suffering, Mrs. Carmon told reporters she was happy – she was happy for the time she had with three very special people.

A few weeks after Mrs. Carmon told reporters, "God took them for a reason. I don’t blame God. I thank him for the two years I had with Shelbi and the twenty-four years with Ryan David. I would rather have known a grandchild for a few years than not at all."

Today, at 5 p.m., a flag ceremony will be held at the stone memorial constructed at Scottown. The Huntington, W.Va., Eagles and American Legion Post 640 of Chesapeake will conduct the ceremony.