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Firefighter trying to rescue Richmond Hill victim: I could ‘grasp his hand’

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WISH) – “We were frantically trying to do anything we could.”

Jurors heard Tuesday from the two firefighters who were in the back of the house with victim Dion Longworth, trying to get him out from where he was trapped the night of the Richmond Hill explosion in November of 2012.

Dion and Jennifer Longworth died in the blast.

Mark Leonard is accused, along with several others, of plotting to blow up his girlfriend’s home for insurance money. Leonard is the first person to stand trial in case, facing charges of arson, murder, insurance fraud and conspiracy in St. Joseph County. His trial was moved out of Marion County due to media coverage of the explosion.

In day two of week two of testimony, Lt. Dean Teagardin with the Indianapolis Fire Department told the jury when they arrived at the scene that night, they were approached by several neighbors telling them there was a person trapped in the beck of the Longworth home, which was next door to the home that exploded.

We now know it was Dion Longworth who was trapped in that home that had partially collapsed from the explosion. Teagardin said when they arrived, the Longworth’s home was already about 70-80 percent covered in flames.

Teagardin explained how they tried to help him, saying they tried to lift, tried to remove, tried to dig, adding “we were frantically trying to do anything we could.”

He said he even thought about removing his mask at one point to get to the man, which is against protocol, but that was too hot, describing ‘extreme heat.’

Teagardin was there with Private Richard Shirven, also of IFD, who described getting down on his knees in the rear of the Longworth home, saying he could grasp Dion Longworth’s hand in his hand, arm in his arm, and moved him closer to him to keep trying to get him out.

He told jurors that Dion Longworth told him, ‘it’s so hot, it’s so hot… please get me out.’

He described debris around Dion, above him, behind him, explaining he was working to move any debris he could, explaining Longworth was very mobile, not too badly hurt, and ‘he knew what was going to happen if he didn’t get out.’

Shirven described it as a very fast moving and intense fire explaining he and Teagardin were pulling out what debris they could, trying to remove it all, but there wasn’t enough time.

He explained they soon had to move back, and they tried to help with the hose line to get water there. But by the time they moved back, the area he was sitting in was a ball of flame, and “he [Dion] was gone.”

He said “it was a matter of a minute or so, from the time we pulled out, to the time he was gone.”

As Shirven walked out of the courtroom after describing their efforts to save Dion, Jennifer’s dad Don Buxton gave him a hug, speaking to him for a moment.

Later that afternoon, as Dion Longworth’s family walked out of the courthouse, they too, embraced and thanked the firefighters for their efforts in working to save their son.

Also Tuesday, jurors heard from both of the mothers of Dion and Jennifer Longworth, explaining the moments they found out their children had died.

Elaine Sgorcea, John Dion Longworth’s mother, said her daughter called her to tell her there had been an explosion in her son’s neighborhood. Sgorcea said they live in Kentucky, and they were soon on their way to Indianapolis. When they were halfway there, she said her daughter called her again to explain what had happened.

Defense attorney David Shircliff said to Sgorcea, “it was very moving to see how many people tried to save your son.”

One juror wiped a tear from her eye.

Jennifer’s mom Nancy Buxton also spoke, describing the night of the explosion.

She said John Longworth, Dion’s dad, had called them, and said he heard from his daughter something had happened in Jennifer and Dion’s neighborhood, and had they heard from them?

Nancy described turning on the TV and seeing what was going on, then later calling hospital after hospital to see if Dion or Jennifer was there.

Around one in the morning, Nancy said Mr. Longworth called and said they should go to Mary Bryan Elementary School, the school where families were gathered afterwards.

Nancy said they were there until about six or seven in the morning. She said the coroner had come in around 4:00 AM, and told them they’d found two bodies.

Later they learned, they were Dion and Jennifer Longworth.

Neighbors: ‘Everything went dark’

The first testimony Tuesday morning in South Bend, was from neighbors who lived closest to the home that exploded, Monserrate Shirley’s home.

Kevin Cole lived right next door to the Longworths. He paused before shakily continuing to describe what he heard that night, explaining, “there was just a tremendous eruption, the loudest thing I have ever heard.”

He said the ceiling collapsed on he and his wife, explaining “it felt like the end of the world.”

At first, he said he thought it was a bomb, explaining time seemed to slow down. It felt like five minutes, he said, but it could have only been a few seconds. His voice trembled while he spoke on the witness stand, saying he told his wife “we need to get out.”

He said they were still trying to figure out what happened when they saw the house next door (the Longworths’) and noticed it was almost gone. They noticed their own house was beginning to burn. He also remembered seeing a panicked look on a firefighter – he “never expected to see that.”

Glenn Olvey lived right next door (to the north) to Monserrate Shirley, and he said he was watching TV in his home with his two daughters and his wife Gloria that night when “everything exploded.”

“Where we were sitting at went dark,” he said.

Olvey said he “tried to get out of whatever was holding me down” and could hear one of his daughters screaming. He said at first they couldn’t find his other daughter — and thought she might stilll be in the house. They eventually did find her.

Gloria Olvey also testified, saying they were sitting in the living room when all of a sudden she turned to speak to her family, and “I felt something hit me in the side of the face.”

She said “everything went dark for a second,” she saw “flashes of light” and then “watched the roof fall down on top of me.”

Gloria Olvey said it went quiet at the time, and then she could hear smoke detectors go off. She asked her daughter to call 911 and to tell them four people were in the house and needed help.

She remembered her daughter telling her she couldn’t get through, then telling her, “No, I can’t move,” “I can’t move,” “I’m bleeding.”

Gloria Olvey said she couldn’t move either, because “I had a very large section of the roof sitting in my lap.”

She described having neighbors coming in, using a two-by-four to lift the roof off her, grabbed her and pulled her off the chair.

Their daughter, Katherine, also spoke to the jury. She was 14 at the time, and is now 16.

“Everything just kind of went dark,” she said, recalling the night.

She said “I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”

Katherine said she could feel she was bleeding from her head, so she “started to panic a little bit.”

Then, she explained that people had ran into their house, asking if anyone was there, and helped to get them out.

Katherine said she had stitches in her back, cheek, a cut on top of her head, and stitches in her leg.

Gloria Olvey said she had 33 stitches in her leg where a two-by-four went through the calf, and she had puncture wounds from nails and stitches in her arm.

Glenn Olvey said he suffered puncture wounds to his back and a concussion from the blast.

Katherine said she believed she had been smelling propane the day before.

Gloria Olvey said Friday, while working in the backyard, she noticed a sound coming from the gas meter at Monserrate Shirley’s home. She said it sounded like a hiss.

The Olveys have not rebuilt the home and sold the lot about a month and a half ago.

Jurors also Tuesday, saw pictures of Dion and Jennifer for the first time. They saw one of Dion by his computer, a picture of the couple together after a graduation, and a photo of Jennifer from the Greenwood elementary school where she taught.Pathologist testifies

In the afternoon Tuesday, jurors heard from the pathologist who conducted autopsies on both Dion and Jennifer Longworth.

She told the jury Jennifer died of injuries sustained in the blast, which caused almost sudden death.

Dion Longworth, the pathologist said, died of inhalation of soot and hot gases, followed by thermal injury. She said he had burns over 90 percent of his body.

Jurors also heard from the doctor who identified both Dion and Jennifer through their dental records.

Jurors also heard for the first time from the lead fire investigator, Lt. Mario Garza with the Indianapolis Fire Department. Garza started to walk jurors through the way he conducts his investigations, and how this one was done. He explained investigators had to sift through and examine each piece of debris.

The trial is currently running ahead of schedule, prosecutors told the judge Tuesday afternoon.

The judge also ruled Tuesday he will not at this point allow jurors to see autopsy photos, at least right now. He called them ‘gruesome.’