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Person found dead after fire at Colonial Village Apartments

Police tape surrounds an apartment complex.
George Shillcock
One person was found dead inside an apartment complex at Colonial Village Apartments Sunday as police responded to a fire.

One person was found dead when police responded to a fire Sunday evening inside a unit at the Colonial Village Apartments.

The Franklin County Coroner identified the person on Tuesday as 57-year-old LaRhonda Roschelle Tatum Bazemore.

Police and fire investigators are still working to find out what caused the fire and how Bazemore died. The fire occurred as Columbus city officials and the owners of the complex are working to move hundreds of residents out by the end of the year because of ongoing safety issues at the complex.

The preliminary fire report from the Columbus Division of Fire said the department was notified of a fire at 7:50 p.m. and responded within three minutes. When units arrived on scene at 7:53 p.m., they quickly found a body and pronounced the Bazemore dead three minutes later at 7:56 p.m.

The report said the first responders found the front door to the apartment open with light smoke and some fire showing in the first floor living room. The report said firefighters went to the front door and used a water can to start putting the fire out in the living room. Two witnesses who were standing outside told them that there was a person living in the apartment and they might still be inside the unit.

Firefighters also found a mattress on fire on the second floor.

WOSU spoke to Columbus Building and Zoning Services Deputy Director Anthony Celebrezze, who said his department spoke to the woman who lived in the unit on Friday. He said his office visited with the woman to check if she had heat.

Celebrezze said her heat was working and they told her she had to move out before the end of the month.

Eugene Crafter spoke to WOSU on Monday and said he's lived at Colonial Village for 10 years and knew Bazemore. Crafter says his heart is broken.

"I just couldn't understand. I just got the news," Crafter said. "I'm sorry for her family and my condolences go out to her family."

Crafter said he didn't know if the Bazemore's family had been notified. The Franklin County Coroner released Bazemore's name to the public after she had been identified through fingerprint analysis and by notifying her family.

"I knew it had to be a bad situation, because I live right on the corner. I was saying a prayer right then and there hoping there wasn't no children that were involved and stuff," Crafter said.

Columbus Department of Development Deputy Director Hannah Jones has been working with Celebrezze's office and the owner of the apartments to get people moved out and provide some with temporary living assistance. She said as of Friday, the city attempted to inspect 186 units and placed vacate placards on 123 of those units.

Crafter said he, like many others, is still trying to move out of Colonial Village before the owner of the apartment complex's Dec. 31 deadline. He said he is disabled and is having problems moving out, but expects to be able to.

"It's a bad situation right now because it's the holidays. They could have gave us some kind of flyers last month or something and told us what the situation was," Crafter said.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.