State News

Student victims of beach house fire remembered

Posted May 16, 2008
Updated May 17, 2008

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— Looking out from the Intracoastal Waterway separating the North Carolina mainland and Ocean Isle Beach, it's hard to imagine anything bad could ever happen in the small resort town.

It's a calming place, from a distance, that seems like it would be free of tragedy. And that makes it difficult to understand that seven South Carolina college students perished in a beach house fire there last October.

Cassidy Fae Pendley, 18; Lauren Astrid Mahon, 18; Justin Michael Anderson, 19; Travis Lane Cale, 19; Allison Walden, 18; William Rhea, 18; and Emily Lauren Yelton, 18, died in their sleep inside 1 Scotland St. on Oct. 28.

About 80 of their family members and friends – and some emergency workers – gathered Friday afternoon at the base of the Odell Williamson Bridge for a private ceremony dedicating a memorial in honor of the young lives.

Bagpipes played "Amazing Grace," and those in attendance shared memories of their loved ones.

The memorial sits in a grove of oak trees. A steel cross – the same one that sat in front of the fire site for months – stands over a granite marker inscribed with the names of the victims and the phrase "friends together forever."

"I don't know, it's like a last way of saying goodbye, I think," Mahon's mother, Kaaren Mann, said afterward. "I like the idea of her being at rest somewhere, and I've never kind of come entirely to terms with how she died."

The state medical examiner ruled the seven victims, who all were asleep on the second floor of the house, died in their sleep of carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation.

Six other USC students made it out alive, including Rick Wylie's son, Tripp, who jumped from the burning house.

"It was important to us, my wife and I, to show our appreciation to the folks here at Ocean Isle," Wylie said. "Not just for the memorial but for the efforts they put forth on the day of the fire."

Tripp didn't attend Friday's event. It was "too soon" for him to return, his father said.

The 12 USC friends gathered at the waterfront beach house for a weekend getaway to enjoy one of the last warm weekends of the season. Yelton, a sophomore at Clemson University, joined them.

They caravanned up to the resort town after classes Friday, listening to music and swimming in a canal behind the house, Fallon Sposato, a sophomore at USC told The Associated Press in October.

On Saturday, the group went out to lunch and watched the University of Georgia-University of Florida game before grilling food on a patio under the house. They drank and hung out on the home's back deck until the early-morning hours.

"We just had a good time," Sposato said. "We were just hanging out and listening to music."

The fire broke out shortly before 7 a.m. Sunday and might have been burning as long as 20 minutes before anyone inside realized it, fire officials said.

In an interview two days later, Tripp Wylie said he awoke to crackling and popping and when he opened his bedroom door, smoke and flames.

Jumping was his only option, he said, and he made "a very lucky jump" to reach safety.

"Nightmare – that's really the only word you can use for something like this," he told CBS's "The Early Show."

Firefighters were at the scene within four minutes of getting the call, but the house was fully engulfed in flames by the time they got there.

A preliminary investigation found that the blaze likely started from improperly discarded smoking materials on the back deck. But because of the extensive damage, it was impossible for investigators to determine an exact cause.

State medical examiners concluded there was no evidence of any other injuries. Alcohol was found in some of the victims, but Brunswick County's district attorney said it played no part in the fire.

The charred remnants of the house were demolished in November.

24 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • weasleyes May 16, 2008

    How many of you pious people drank when you were 18 or even younger? I did! I also did some real foolish things.
    There, but for the Grace of God ..........

  • skaternum May 16, 2008

    I note that the article stated that alcohol is not believed to have been a factor. Ummm, huh?? I seem to recall hearing that most of the dead had very high alcohol content in their bodies. Surely the fact that they were smashed might have affected their ability to escape? Could the cigarette have been neglected by a teenager in a drunken stupor?

    What they were doing was ILLEGAL. I hardly think a memorial is in order.

  • elcid89 May 16, 2008

    "Some of you are worried about 'your' tax money. Unless you have property in Ocean Isle, and it's in N.C. not S.C., it' not your tax money. AND, if it causes one person, underage or not, to pause and make a good decision regarding alcohol consumption or driving while impaired and saves that one life then the memorial has been well worth the thought and expense."

    If it's publicly funded, regardless of where the tax dollars came from, then it can not have that symbol on it, period. It's not a situation where you can collectively say it's ok because you live there and others don't. It's against the law on face.

  • See Chart May 16, 2008

    Equal time for atheists perhaps, why a cross after such a horror?

  • 4 kicks May 16, 2008

    tarheel born - very well said

  • Tarheel born May 16, 2008

    Some of you are worried about 'your' tax money. Unless you have property in Ocean Isle, and it's in N.C. not S.C., it' not your tax money. AND, if it causes one person, underage or not, to pause and make a good decision regarding alcohol consumption or driving while impaired and saves that one life then the memorial has been well worth the thought and expense.

  • 4 kicks May 16, 2008

    It could be from a memorial fund that was set up from donations and not necessarily tax dollars.

  • Pharmboy May 16, 2008

    What a tragedy. I don't think that it deserves a memorial though. Heroes deserve a memorial, like those that die in the line of duty, not from a night of drinking and partying.

    The funds, especially if it is our tax money, should go to the awareness of why this event occurred and to prevent it from happening. We have soldiers dying overseas almost every day, but they get less of a article than these kids.

  • Adelinthe May 16, 2008

    "Yes, anytime a young person dies, it is a tragedy; the fact that many more died expands its scope. But this incident happened due to excessive underage drinking and the careless disposal of a cigarette."

    I agree. No heroes here...just kids partying.

    Let's see more recognitions for our men and women in uniform instead.

    God bless.

    Rev. RB

  • colliedave May 16, 2008

    Yes, anytime a young person dies, it is a tragedy; the fact that many more died expands its scope. But this incident happened due to excessive underage drinking and the careless disposal of a cigarette.

    A woman cyclist lost her life, and a young man had his future severely impacted simply b/c he wanted to get smashed for his 21st birthday. This is part of the culture that cost these young people their lives. Simply erecting a cross will do nothing to end this culture.

More...