Patterson house fire kills retired teacher, blind man


Staff Reporters

PATTERSON — A retired St. Mary Parish educator perished along with another person in an early morning fire that destroyed both her home and a day care center next door in Patterson.

Barbara Hall and Clarence Watson Sr. died while another person escaped the fire, according to relatives who were at the scene this morning. Hall and Watson were pronounced dead at the scene by the St. Mary Parish coroner.

A grandson, Demetrius Owens, escaped the fire, Thomas Anderson, Hall’s brother-in-law, said. Anderson also said Watson was legally blind.

“I’m still trying to process,” Anderson said. “I came yesterday morning to cut the grass and again yesterday afternoon to bring her something to eat,” he said of Hall, who taught business education for 31 years at Morgan City High School before her retirement in 2002.

Hall’s first two years of teaching were at Bayou Vista Elementary School in the early 1970s, for a total of 33 years’ service in St. Mary Parish, Superintendent Donald Aguillard said.

Pete Boudreaux, now a supervisor at the Central Office Complex in Centerville, was the Morgan City High principal when Hall retired.

“I also taught with Mrs. Hall for a few years. She was one of a kind, one of those teachers you never forget. (She was) never scared to speak her mind. I really believe she loved teaching,” Boudreaux said via email this morning.

Anderson said he’d known Hall for seven or eight years.

“To me there was none like her. She was kind, compassionate, giving. Any good accolade that you could put before her name, she deserved it. She was spirit-filled first and foremost. She was a child of God,” Anderson said.

Patterson resident Joseph Drayton said he would visit Watson daily at the home.

“He liked to talk. He liked to laugh. He would say things to make you laugh. He just was a nice guy,” Drayton said.

The blaze started in the kitchen of the home around 1:30 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Patterson Fire Chief Sherel Martin said.

Patterson firefighters arrived at the scene at 1:34 a.m. to find the residence fully involved with fire, Martin said.

A caller phoned 911 at 1:26 a.m. to report the fire, Martin said. Two pumpers and one service truck responded to the call.

Meanwhile, the roof of the Barney and Baby Bops Day Care Center Number Two next door caught fire due to the radiating heat coming from the adjacent residence. The fire then spread to the side of the building closest to the residence, Martin said. No one was at the center at the time of the fire, he added.

Firefighters had the blaze under control by 2:30 a.m. and the last unit cleared the scene at 6:30 a.m.

The State Fire Marshal was also dispatched to the scene. The Patterson Volunteer Fire Department turned the investigation over to the state agency, Martin said.

State Fire Marshal “Butch” Browning released information today regarding the fire:

“At approximately 1:30 a.m. this morning, Patterson firefighters were dispatched to 524 Martin Luther King Ave. to find a single-story residence fully engulfed in flames. After the fire was extinguished, the bodies of 67-year-old Barbara Hall and 68-year-old Clarence Watson were found in a bedroom. A third occupant in the home at the time of the fire, 20-year-old Demetrius Owens, escaped without injury.

“State Fire Marshal investigators were dispatched to the scene to assist Patterson authorities with determining the origin and cause of the fire. The fire was determined to have originated in the kitchen area of the home. Demetrious Owens, who is a grandson of the deceased, told authorities he awoke to a fire in the kitchen and immediately exited the home where he was able to flag down a passing patrol car. The patrolman reported being unable to enter the home due to the heavy smoke and unable to rescue the elderly victims. Through investigation it was learned Owens has special needs and was being supervised by his grandparents. Owens told authorities he had been cooking before the fire and had fallen asleep. Based on the information provided by Owens, the cause of the fire is being attributed to unsafe cooking practices.

“Reportedly, the home was not equipped with smoke alarms at the time of the fire,” Browning’s news release concluded.

Officials for the daycare center were unavailable this morning.

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