MIDDLETOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) –A New Jersey father escaped a fire that tore through his home in Middletown, but his family did not.
The six-alarm fire killed four people in all, including his wife and daughter, reports CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
Neighbors say Stephen Banovich, the only person to escape the flames that engulfed his home, watched helplessly as his wife and daughter, her boyfriend, and his sister-in-law perished in the fire.
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“You could see he was distraught, had his hand to his face, like shaking,” another neighbor, Kristen Dressler, said. “Neighbors had to console him.”
Neighbor Ted Magee said his wife apparently heard Banovich yell, “My wife! My daughter! Somebody help us!”
“I looked out the window and was like ‘Oh my God’. I called my husband, started crying,” said neighbor Phyllis Nitti.
Nitti said Banovich ran to her house and told her he was inside his house when suddenly he was engulfed in smoke. He managed to find the front door to the house and got out.
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Nitti said Banovich told her when he turned around to go back inside to save his family, there was a wall of flames.
“He came out and thought his sister-in-law was behind him, and turned, and she wasn’t,” neighbor Ted Magee said. “He couldn’t get back in there…there was no way.”
The fire broke out at about 3 a.m. Tuesday morning inside the house on Statesir Place in Middletown, New Jersey.
The victims were identified as 63-year-old Sheri Banovich, her 23-year-old daughter, Deidre, Deidre’s 25-year-old boyfriend, Anthony Cadalzo, and Banovich’s sister-in-law, 60-year-old Denise Dusold.
Cadalzo’s distraught aunt told CBS 2 that the family is devastated.
“We all had a hand in taking care of him,” Rene Miller said. “We had a big family…we’re close…so this is hard for us.”
Cadalzo was separated from his estranged wife, Crystal, with whom he has a child, and was staying with the Banovich family. Crystal Cadalzo was also friends with Deidre.
“She was a good person – sweet, funny girl, heart of gold,” Crystal said. “They both had a heart of gold, they’d do anything for anybody.”
Prosecutors said a cigarette or lighting material they suspect caused the fire was left inside a first-floor waste basket.
“Broke my heart, because I knew them for 20 years, and they were really nice people,” neighbor Dan Noboe said.