Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Victims of mobile home fire mourned

by on May 19, 2014 11:00 AM

Authorities this morning continued to search for the cause of a fire that claimed the lives of a young couple and one of their children early Sunday morning in their mobile home just west of Indiana Borough.

The bodies of Gabbriella Novak, 9; her mother, Nicole Novak, 27; and her father, Shawn Marsh, 28, were discovered in a rear bedroom of their residence at 105 Keystone Drive in the Colonial Court mobile home park in White Township, where they had been trapped by the fire, officials said.

The first alarm for the Indiana fire department was sounded at 3:32 a.m., but it wasn’t until about 5 a.m., when firefighters could safely enter the trailer, that they found the victims dead along with two of the family’s dogs.

[PHOTO: A fast-moving fire trapped three residents early Sunday in their home along Keystone Drive in the Colonial Court mobile home park in White Township. Shawn Marsh, Nicole Novak and their daughter, Gabbriella Novak, died in the blaze. (James J. Nestor/Gazette photo)]

Gabby, neighbors called her, was a third-grade student at Ben Franklin Elementary School in the Indiana Area School District. Marsh was self-employed, the operator of Marsh Tree Service.

Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman Jr. didn’t immediately rule on the causes of death but reported autopsies would be performed today at Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

They were trapped by flames that quickly swept through their residence, a fire that some neighbors said was preceded by an explosion that roused them from their sleep.

“I stuck my head out the front door … and it was already up like a Roman candle,” said Michael Miller, of 55 Independence Lane. Miller said he phoned 911 and “told them to send everybody.”

Miller then moved his cars to safety from his driveway. Before the fire was out, the extreme heat from across the road had melted the vinyl siding on Miller’s mobile home.

Other neighbors came out and shouted in hopes of getting the family’s attention as the fire grew. Neighbor Andrew Heckman said another resident got hurt in an attempt to enter the burning trailer.

“He’s all bandaged up. He punched a window out, trying to get to the little girl,” Heckman said.

Heckman surveyed the damage Sunday afternoon with his young daughters at his side. They were friends with Marsh and Novak’s children, he said, and one was Gabby’s classmate.

“They went to school together … she has her ups and downs today,” Heckman said.

Gabby was a popular student in Deb Horvath’s third-grade class, said Ben Franklin School Principal Robert Rizzo.

“The students always wanted to be around her,” Rizzo said. “The students all were very close, and especially close to her.”

Rizzo said he spent Sunday contacting parents of the third-graders to let them know about the fire. School officials arranged to have extra counselors there today to talk with classmates and help them cope with Gabby’s death, he said.

If there was any solace for the neighbors, they said it was that two of the family’s children were away from home with relatives when the fire began.

Saving the family was as futile for the fire department as for the neighbors, said Assistant Chief Paul Koons of the Indiana fire department.

The mobile home park has a good public water supply and the fire company had plenty of manpower, but the fire engulfed the family’s home too fast, Koons said.

“We came from the Indiana West substation and by the time we passed the Sheetz store on Ben Franklin Road, you could see the orange sky,” Koons said. “The roof was starting to fall in when we first arrived.”

Koons didn’t speculate on how the fire may have started.

“This is horrible for anybody to go through. There was nothing we could do that would have changed the outcome. The fire just had a big start.

“And fortunately for the surrounding neighbors, there wasn’t much of a breeze. We could easily have had another trailer on fire,” Koons said.

Homer City and Coral-Graceton fire departments assisted at the scene, while the Clymer fire department was placed on standby at the Indiana fire station.

Temperatures in the area had fallen into the 30s early Sunday, and neighbors wondered whether a heat source might have been a factor.

“Shawn didn’t use a furnace; he had a tree business, so he used firewood,” said neighbor Johnny Walker. “He furnished me with all my firewood, too.”

“Anyone who ever asked him for help, he always would help out,” Miller said. “We never had any problems with him.”

“There’s so many horrible people out here in this world and something like this has to happen to a nice family,” Heckman said. “All he did was work and take care of his family.”

A fire marshal from the state police station in Indiana investigated at the scene Sunday morning but released no findings before deadline today.

The Rairigh-Bence Funeral Home in Indiana is handling funeral arrangements for the victims.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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