A South Bend man couldn’t make it out of his burning house early Monday morning. Emergency responders found 51-year-old Richard Gaska unconscious in his bedroom. He died shortly after arriving at Memorial Hospital.
"They laid him on the ground and they gave him CPR try to bring him back to life," explains Patrick Chatman, who lives nearby and saw the fire. "It was flames so high and the fire was shooting everywhere. It was just so scary."
The fire broke out at a house converted into apartments in the 400-block of North William Street at about 12:30 a.m.
"We found heavy fire on the porch and coming out of the first floor of the structure," explains Battalion Chief Al Kirsits, South Bend Fire Department. “We had to call in other crews because we actually had four apartments in this structure including the basement. So it made it a difficult search,”
The house was separated into four apartments, three on the ground flour. Those were occupied, but the apartment on the second floor was vacant. Actually, a family with a baby just moved out of that upstairs apartment last week. Seven people were inside at the time of the fire. The other six people got out safely and got help from the Red Cross.
"He would be really happy to know that everybody else was safe. That would make him happy to know that nobody else got hurt,” explains Karen Franling, Gaska’s friend. “Rick was a really nice guy. He helped a lot of people. Always opened his house to people and if you wanted something to eat or a place to sit down for a few minutes, he always welcomed people in."
"It's shocking,” adds Tony Smith, who lives nearby. “I just found out that it was actually him. So it's kind of shocking for it to be so close to somebody that you know."
"I went to grade school with Rick all my life," shares Terry Karon. "Very nice guy, quiet, kind of a loner type person, friendly to everybody. My heart just goes out to them. It is sad."
Some 12 hours after the fire started, investigators were still at the scene trying to find evidence of what sparked the fire. Officials say they believe the fire began in the living room on the ground floor, but they don’t know how. While autopsy results show there doesn’t appear to be any foal play, officials are waiting for toxicology results.