Elderly wheelchair-bound man dies in South Richmond fire

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Vietnam veteran leaves behind a grieving family after an early morning house fire in South Richmond. It happened in the 1400 block of Lynhaven Avenue.

Family members say the victim is Theodore Claiborne, 65, a wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran.

Investigators believe the fire was an accident, but don't have an exact cause yet. The fire broke out just after 6 a.m. this morning.

While fire crews were on the way, neighbors were frantically calling 911 saying that an elderly man in a wheelchair was still inside.

"Fire units arrived to find heavy fire coming from the back of the house," said Lt. Sean Jones, a Richmond Fire Dept. Spokesperson.

Within one minute of getting here they were able to get in, find the the man and remove him from the house.

But unfortunately, it was too late. A devastating loss for Claiborne's family and friends.

"Hardworking, honest, do anything for anybody," said a friend.

"I lost a friend too, it's very disheartening, saddening, my heart is broken because of this--nobody deserves to go like that--it's horrible," said Marji Gillus.

She was married to Claiborne at one time and they have two children.

"My heart dropped to the floor, I was getting ready for work when I got the word that something was going on, my heart just dropped cause we are still close, even though we are divorced, we are still friends," she said.

Family members were clearly distraught by Claiborne's death, but the entire neighborhood was just as sad.

Kathy Shepperson lives next door. She was close to her neighbor and called him pop.

"I cut his grass quite often actually," she said. "He always wanted it to be nice and neat, and that's what I do, I landscape."

Fire was found in the basement, first floor and attic of his home. Firefighters put the blaze out within about 40 minutes.

While the house is not a total loss, there is significant damage that likely makes it unlivable.

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