WHEELING, W.Va. — The odor of smoke lingered in the air Monday evening as friends and neighbors laid flowers, toys and messages of love in front of the charred remains of 1103 1/2 McColloch St., the home where a mother, her two sons and the family dog lost their lives earlier that morning.
Tracy Daugherty and her sons, Javon and Jadien, died in an early morning fire that caused a partial collapse of their home. The cause remains under investigation with the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s Office, although investigators with the Wheeling Fire Department believe an electrical complication may be to blame.
Daugherty worked as a deputy clerk for Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone for three years. Mazzone said it’s a tragic loss for his office and the community, and that Daugherty will be impossible to replace.
“This isn’t an overstatement — no one ever disliked Tracy,” he said. “Anybody she came into contact with, she won over immediately. She was just that type of person.”
Mazzone said Daugherty was a dedicated single mother whose world was defined by her sons. He said she was prompt, personal and professional in her work.
Daugherty’s neighbor, Sandy Nickerson, said she awoke shortly after midnight to an explosion from next door and a bath of red light. Firefighters arrived soon after as flames shot from the front of the nearby building.
Nickerson said she wasn’t close to the family, but she’d often see Daugherty leave home early in the morning for work with Javon and Jadien in tow, on their way to school.
“They were so little,” she said.
An online GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise money for the family’s funeral expenses. Mazzone said his office would assist the family in any way possible.
“She’s going to be missed,” he said. “We’re all devastated.”
Friends of the family were posting notes of condolence on social media, including Tracy Daugherty’s Facebook page, throughout the day. The makeshift memorial in front of the house also bears the victims’ first names.
Authorities have ruled out foul play.
Passersby noticed flames and called 911 shortly after midnight Monday, sending Wheeling firefighters to the two-story home in East Wheeling. Assistant Fire Chief Paul Harto, who lives just a few doors away, ran to help, but the fire was too intense. Flames were shooting from the front of the structure when firefighters arrived.
Stahl said fire crews found one victim on the first floor, but heavy flames forced them back outside.
“They were only able to get in about 6-8 feet where they found the first victim, a child, on the floor. The child was taken to Ohio Valley Medical Center and pronounced dead,” Stahl said.
The fire consumed the interior of the home, causing the second floor to collapse onto the first floor. Daugherty and the second child were found beneath the rubble hours later, at about 5 a.m. The family dog also perished in the fire.
Homes on either side of the burning structure were evacuated and only one of the buildings sustained damage to the roof. No one was injured in the adjacent homes.
A state fire marshal was on scene before daybreak Monday.
As firefighters worked to put out the fire, neighbors came out of the their homes and lined the street. Many of them were visibly crying as they knew the family members who died in the fire.
Patty Wells, a neighbor, said she ran toward the house when she heard the commotion. She was devastated to learn the family’s fate.
“They were a lovely family. She was a single mom, an excellent mother who took care of her kids. They were great kids,” Wells said.
Associate City Editor Heather Ziegler contributed to this story.