Coroner: Inhaling fire-heated air killed Naperville couple
Inhaling hot, smoke-filled air from a fire that raged through their home last month caused the deaths of Tom and Jan Lambert of Naperville, whose lives were celebrated over the weekend during a memorial service at their church.
Tom, 57, and Jan, 56, both died of what the DuPage County coroner's office determined to be "thermal inhalation injuries due to a house fire." The deaths resulting from the Dec. 18 fire on Field Court were ruled accidental.
The fire erupted around 6:50 a.m. in the Lamberts' two-story home near Aurora Avenue and River Road. It left a 21-year-old live-in caregiver, Allen Belaguas of Orland Park, critically injured, but Tom Lambert's father and sister escaped with only minor injuries.
Naperville Fire Marshal Scott Scheller said the fire started in a first-floor room at the back of the house, but an investigation was unable to determine the exact cause. Foul play is not suspected and the fire is not considered suspicious.
"We've exhausted all of our avenues as far as what we can investigate and we've come up with an undetermined cause," Scheller said Wednesday.
So much of the house was consumed in the fire that investigators were unable to pinpoint what sparked it, he said. Firefighters have said the blaze burned hotter than a typical fire because it was fed by a gas line that ruptured and by oxygen tanks in the home.
While the investigation into the fire has concluded -- unless new information surfaces -- Belaguas, the caregiver who suffered severe smoke inhalation, remains in the hospital.
Belaguas has been in intensive care since the blaze, and his family said this week his condition has not improved. Doctors have told Belaguas' mother, Zeta Pierson, and her husband, George Pierson, that the 21-year-old's chances of recovery are slim. The Piersons are working to establish a fund to support Belaguas' health care costs.
In the days and weeks after the fire, friends and neighbors have remembered the Lamberts as a kind, gentle couple. Tom was a psychologist who loved running until a 2012 diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumor made it too difficult. Jan, who was blind from her own battle with a brain tumor more than 25 years ago, was a member of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville known for her faith and sense of humor.
The victims' families, friends and fellow church members gathered Sunday for a memorial service, the Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher said.
"People shared their memories and stories about Jan and Tom," Belcher said.