Husband awoken by her but unable to save her
ROYALTON - A 60-year-old Royalton woman died late Saturday night when her home caught fire just over the Barnard town line on North Road despite frantic efforts by her husband to save her.
Roberta Staples was unable to make it out of the trailer the couple had rented for the last decade behind Dennis Lewis’ farmhouse which sits right across North Road from the intersection with Ox Tail Lane.
Neighbors Francis and Carol Zuccalo, who live a few dozen yards down North Road, were awoken at 11:30 p.m. Saturday evening by Timothy Staples, 58, who was pounding on their front door and yelling “My wife! My wife! She’s dying! She’s in the fire!,” the Zuccalos recalled in an interview at their home on Sunday.
Francis Zuccalo, a retired firefighter from Springfield, Massachusetts, said at first he didn’t even recognize Staples and wasn’t sure what was going on.
“Well I didn’t know who he was to begin with because I’ve only seen him once or twice before,” Zuccalo explained. “He came up here banging on the door and he was all shook up…no shoes on, in a t-shirt, freezing and screaming and hollering ‘Let me in the house!’.”
Carol Zuccalo, who made the call to 911, said she knew Staples was a drywall installer and said she’d seen him drive past every morning for years but she said she didn’t recognize him either in the state he was in late Saturday night.
“His hair was all standing up and he was black from soot,” she recalled.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz said Sunday that Staples had been awakened by his wife who yelled for him to get out of their trailer because there was a fire. “Timothy fled from the home but was unable to get back inside due to the extreme heat and smoke,” Ambroz noted.
South Royalton’s volunteer firefighters were initially dispatched to the scene and mutual aid was quickly requested from the Barnard, Bethel and Randolph fire departments as well.
The late season sleet storm made getting through the ice and snow to the scene especially difficult but the trailer and the attached carport were already completely engulfed before the first fire companies could have hoped to get there, the Zuccalos explained.
Francis Zuccalo said that when Staples first mentioned a fire to him it didn’t register what he was talking about. “I was looking out the window and thinking ‘I don’t see no fire. What’s this guy up to?’,” Zuccalo recalled, “Then I went out on the porch and looked and Oh Boy, Oh Boy, it was going!”
“He asked me, ‘Have you got anything for my feet?’ so I gave him a pair of boots and then he took off and went back down to his house and by that time the state police and the fire department were there,” Zuccalo added.
The Zuccalos described the Staples as “pretty good neighbors who haven’t bothered anybody” and noted that they recently lost their adult son in a devastating car accident that took place just a few miles from their home.
Although the trailer was already beginning to collapse inward when the first fire companies arrived, Zuccalo said the miserable situation was made worse because of a large amount of ammunition that was stored inside the residence.
“That made it tough down there too. He had a lot of ammunition in his house and we could hear ‘Bang, Bang, Boom, Boom’,” well into the early morning hours, Zuccalo recalled. “Then I heard one big bang. I don’t know what that was.”
Roberta Staples was a smoker and also used a portable oxygen tank to breathe, the Zuccalos noted, saying they believed investigators were looking into that combination as a possible factor in the late night blaze.
Detective Sgt. Ambroz said Sunday that Roberta Staples did not make it out of the residence and a firefighter eventually located her inside of it. Her remains were removed late Sunday morning and taken to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington for an autopsy as part of the on-going investigation into the fire’s cause.
The Vermont State Police are asking anyone who might have any information on the situation to contact either Detective Trooper Christopher Blais at the Royalton Barracks at (802) 722-4600 or Detective Sergeant Todd Ambroz at the Williston Barracks at (802) 878-7111.
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