1 year later, still no cause in fatal Medford apt. fire

MEDFORD, Ore. — For Bailee Smith, it all started with a phone call that would change her life.

“My husband had called me and said that the boys were safe. He just threw them out the window and he was about to jump because the house was on fire,” said Smith, a former Cedar Tree Apt. resident.

In the early morning hours of November 2, 2018, first responders filled the east Medford apartment complex.

Investigators say the fire started in the apartment of 51-year-old, Tonya Kaylee Johnson.

Smith, her husband Kiraush, and their two sons lived next door along with their roommate Trish and her two daughters, Amelia and Olivia.

“When he opened our bedroom door, he just got blasted with the soot. He was like black from the whole front,” said Smith.

Smith says she wasn’t at home when the fire broke out but says her husband woke up to heavy smoke. He acted fast throwing their two boys out the window to firefighters below, then jumping out of the burning apartment himself.

“They were taking my youngest son in an ambulance to Rogue Regional and my oldest and my husband were going in the other ambulance,” she said.

But not everyone was brought to safety.

Smith says Trish’s two little girls were still inside.

“He had mentioned to me numerous times that if he had known they were still in there, he would have went and got them,” she said.

Olivia Chapman died a week later.

She was 5-years-old.

“It’s this entire case and everything that fell out afterward. There’s a lot of tragedy involved,” said Lt. Mike Budreau, Medford Police Dept.

Today, you won’t see any crime scene tape or charred wood.

But that doesn’t mean police have answers.

“You certainly want to be able to say conclusively what happened when it’s all said and done. Somebody did lose their life in this event but sometimes the investigation when its all done, you just can’t really prove anything,” said Lt. Budreau.

What Lt. Budreau says police do know is that hours before the fire sparked, Johnson’s apartment door was wide open and she wasn’t home.

“It’s so odd because the fire started so many hours after the resident was in the hospital due to the accident,” he said.

Lt. Budreau says Johnson couldn’t have been home because she was hit by a car earlier that night on South Pacific Highway.

The accident left her in a coma for months.

“The car accident in and of itself. That was odd and, you know, she… from our investigation… she ran out into the path of that vehicle and was struck and she’s lucky to be alive,” he said.

Police finally spoke to Johnson two months after her injury, but she had no idea why a fire could have sparked at her apartment.

“I lived there for almost three weeks and I’d never seen that lady,” said Smith.

While Smith says she’s still frustrated by the lack of answers in the investigation, it was another tragedy three months after the fire that shook the family.

Her husband, Kiraush, took his own life.

“I tried for almost three months after the fire to have him get help but he just didn’t want it,” she said.

Though he saved his boys and didn’t know the girls were still in the apartment, he blamed himself for Olivia’s death.

“No matter who talked to him, who told him there was no way he could have gotten her out, in his mind… it wasn’t enough for him,” she said.

One tragedy after another, all of it Smith says could have been avoided… should have been avoided.

But as hard as it is, they have to move forward.

“At some point as hard as it is we have to move on in a way. Not forget, but move on,” she said.

For the time being, Medford Police have suspended the investigation until new information is gathered.

If you have any information, you’re urged to contact police.

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