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Neighbor pulls man from burning home

Rescue workers say the woman saved the 76-year-old man's life. His wife, 80, was not injured in the Sunset Park blaze.

By ANGELA MOORE and KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


TAMPA -- A 76-year-old man affectionately known as "the mayor of Emerson Street" was in Tampa General Hospital on Wednesday night after being pulled from the garage of his burning home by a neighbor.

Rescuers said the neighbor saved Leo Trusewitsch's life after an electrical short caused a fire that nearly consumed his home at 3017 S Emerson St. in Sunset Park.

Trusewitsch's wife, Evelyn, 80, noticed sparks coming from an outlet behind a couch about 10 a.m., said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade. A fire had started, and it was too late to unplug the lamp in the outlet, so Trusewitsch pulled the couch away from the wall and battled the fire. Mrs. Trusewitsch left to get help.

The blaze grew, and Trusewitsch, a retired dentist, was overcome by smoke, arson investigator C.D. Thompson said.

Mrs. Trusewitsch ran next door to 3015 S Emerson, and Katrina Cain, 33, answered the door with her 14-month-old son, Dylan, in her arms. She called 911 and walked outside as she talked to dispatchers, Wade said.

Through the smoke belching out of the open garage, she saw Trusewitsch stumbling, she told investigators. Confused, burned and blinded by smoke, he pushed a button and the garage door began to close.

With Dylan on one hip, Wade said, Cain reached into the garage, stopped the door and then reached farther into the black smoke. Cain felt Trusewitsch's burned shirt, but it ripped off when she tugged it. She wrapped one arm around his shoulders and pulled him outside.

Trusewitsch was nearly unconscious when paramedics arrived, Wade said. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 25 percent of his body and serious smoke inhalation. He was in critical condition Wednesday night.

Cain, lauded as a hero by firefighters and paramedics, did not want to talk to reporters.

The Trusewitschs live with their 40-year-old son, Nick, who looks after his parents, neighbors said. He was not at home during the fire.

Neighbors on the oak-shaded street said the Trusewitschs were old-fashioned neighbors, the kind who welcomed newcomers.

"He's a real character. Everybody in the neighborhood knows him and loves him," said Susan Waller, the Trusewitschs' other next-door neighbor. Waller said she hoped she and her daughters could visit him in the hospital.

Firefighters came back Wednesday afternoon to extinguish a rekindling of the fire. Officials had already sifted through the blackened debris and ascertained that an electric short sparked the fire.

Smoke damage permeated the entire single-story house, and about half the home was burned, Thompson said.

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