CEDAR HILL, Texas - A house fire in Cedar Hill where three people were found dead is now a criminal investigation.
Police say they found evidence inside the home that raises suspicion of a crime, but they did not elaborate.
Cedar Hill officials said the deadly fire happened around 5 a.m. Thursday at a home on Lovern Street near Highway 67 and Pleasant Run. A church pastor, his wife and teenage daughter were found dead inside the home. Another daughter suffered serious injuries. Police were able to rescue two other people before firefighters arrived.
Police have contacted the state fire marshal’s office for assistance to determine the cause of the fire. The medical examiner's office is determining how the three victims died.
Police say neighbors reported hearing loud sounds similar to gunshots around the time of the fire, but police caution it is too early to determine where those sounds came from.
Neighbors on Lovern Street woke up to fire trucks battling the flames that were shooting out of the house. Cedar Hill police were first to arrive and pulled two people to safety.
“When they arrived, they had people in the second story windows,” said Cedar Hill Deputy Fire Chief Rodney Smith. “They were able to assist them in self-rescuing from the second story windows.”
Body camera video from Cedar Hill Patrol Sgt. JR Podany shows an officer catching a man who just jumped out of a second-story window of the burning home.
“Seeing the flames and smoke, I knew it’s just a matter of time that we had as patrol officers,” Podany said.
Podany ordered his officer to pull the squad car right up against the burning home so the two trapped people inside could jump out the window and onto the hood as the officers guided them safely down. He says his officers acted without hesitation.
“He actually climbed up on the hood of our patrol unit and assisted a male and a female down to the hood, where I got a hold of them and got on the ground,” he recalled. “And about at that time, the Cedar Hill Fire Department was arriving on scene.”
After rescuing those two, Podany learned there were still four others inside the burning home.
“We attempted to make entry into the front door where we actually forced entry, but the smoke was too bad for us to actually make entry,” he said.
Officers tried repeatedly until they were overcome by the smoke and fire. Podany says officers are trained to encounter high-risk situations, but a fire with trapped victims is a different story.
Smoke prevented the officers from entering the house to rescue others. Some officers had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
Fire officials say firefighters did not hear any smoke alarms going off inside the house when they entered.
“We had heavy smoke conditions. Our units immediately went into rescue mode, entered the house and pulled four victims out of the house,” Smith said. “Three of those victims were deceased on the scene. One victim was transported to a local hospital.”
Neighbors and friends identified one of the people who died as Pastor Eugene Keahey. He lived at the home with his wife, Deanna, and other family members. Keahey’s wife and one of his teenage daughters also died in the fire.
“He is a phenomenal person, and our prayers are with him and his family,” said Dawn Miller, a family friend.
Neighbors and church friends described that pastor as charitable. He was always volunteering time to help others, especially in the Sandbranch community. He often brought residents clean water when they had no access to it. He spoke to FOX 4 about the issue facing the community in 2016.
“And then he would have food over here and vegetables that he would give to the neighbors,” said neighbor Wanda Fuller. “I’m just in shock. Just really in shock.”
“We’re out here praying for him and his family through whatever they’re going to have to face,” Miller said. “The days going ahead will be tough. We’re going to prayerfully supporting them in any way we can.”
At last check, one of the couple's other teenage daughters is in critical condition at Parkland Hospital. Family members and friends say she's responsive and has to go through multiple surgeries. But they believe she's going to pull through.