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    Fire kills elderly couple, grandson

    A couple and their grandson died in the blaze. Its cause was still being investigated late Saturday.

    By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 29, 2002


    THONOTOSASSA -- A neighbor pounded on Letoya Williams' door at 6 a.m. Saturday. He was frantic: The home of Williams' grandparents was on fire.

    Williams and her boyfriend rushed next door, but the doors were locked. They shattered a window, but thick smoke was everywhere.

    "There was nothing we could do," she said.

    Firefighters arrived to find flames reaching through the roof of the home and, inside, the bodies of Armster Williams, 71, Lillie Belle Williams, 73, and Carlos Delancy, 30, their mentally disabled grandson.

    Hours later, they were still hosing down what remained of the home while investigators scoured for clues.

    Armster Williams was a retired longshoreman who suffered three strokes in recent years, said his son, Lee Williams of St. Petersburg. He came home three months ago after a short stay in a nursing home.

    "He didn't like nursing homes," Lee Williams said. "He didn't like to be pampered. He just liked to work hard."

    Lillie Belle Williams worked hard, too. She spent years peeling shrimp and canning fruit at factories in Dover and Tampa, her son said.

    At home, she kept the television fixed on a religious channel.

    "She'd come over and ask me what the weather was going to be like," Letoya Williams said outside her home, as ashes rained down. "I'd joke with her and say, 'If you turned the channel, you'd find out a lot."'

    Besides their son, Lee, the couple had four daughters.

    The cause of the fire remained under investigation late Saturday.

    Family members said the couple and their grandson often slept in the living room, warmed by a fireplace and space heaters.

    The Williamses lived in this part of rural Hillsborough County since the late 1960s. Lee Williams said he, his father and other relatives built most of the ranch-style home themselves.

    After retiring, Armster Williams itched to go back to work. In the mid-1990s, he and a partner opened a funeral home in east Tampa -- a venture that lasted until declining health forced him to shut it down five years later, his son said.

    On Saturday, soot covered a hearse parked next to the home.

    Armster Williams was frustrated by his growing lack of mobility, but insisted on getting around on his own two feet, his family said.

    "He had a wheelchair and a walker, but he never used them," his son said.

    Neighbors described the couple as quiet, but friendly. Until recently, they said, Armster Williams walked with his grandson down neighborhood streets.

    -- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com

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