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Middletown man was quiet, loving father whose disability trapped him inside flaming home

Posted at 2:18 AM, Mar 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-12 13:00:02-04

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — With a neighbor’s help, Joshua Jones kicked in the door to his father’s flaming home and tried to save him, he said Monday night. He couldn’t see in the smoke-filled house, so he worked from memory, crawling toward the kitchen and the room where he expected to find his father.

The smoke was too much, he said quietly later that night. The flames were too high. The neighbor had to pull him back out.

Firefighters would soon discover his father, James "Butch" Gann, dead inside the home.

Middletown Fire Department chief Paul Lolli said the cause of the fire remained under investigation.

Gann's daughter, Pastor Lesley Jones, stood outside the ring of caution tape and flashing lights with her brother in the aftermath.

“He was a very quiet man, definitely a loving man and a great dad,” she said of her father. “He was a man of few words, but he had powerful things to say. You knew that he meant them.”

He had been alone in the home with his dog, which also did not survive the fire, when the blaze started around 8:40 p.m. Joshua said he had been checking on his father at his mother’s request when he realized the back half of the house was on fire.

According to Lesley, James lived with physical disabilities that prevented him from escaping by himself. Some were connected to diabetes; others, she said, were connected to injuries he sustained while serving in the Vietnam War.

As her family struggles to process his death, Lesley said she was grateful that her father had known how much he was loved.

“We’re not the kind of family that waits to say, ‘I love you and I’ll be there for you,’” she said.

She was also grateful for a special memory from just a month earlier.

“It was my mom’s birthday, and my dad has been struggling with his health — he’s been disabled for a while,” she said. “He grabbed her on her birthday and said, ‘Let’s dance.’”