Motorized chair investigated as possible cause of fatal Westwego fire

Fatal Westwego fire may have started in wheelchair

WESTWEGO, LA (WVUE) - Other that the yellow tape blocking the front door, there are few signs that a fatal fire unfolded Monday inside a double on Avenue A in Westwego.

Neighbors are still in shock.

"That's right across the street and it's a shame," says Travis Gaubert.

Just before 7 p.m., Gaubert says an 11-year-old girl who lived in the home came running over.

"She came running out saying, 'He's on fire!' We know Gary, and me and Mark ran into the house. He was just sitting in his chair in the hallway," says Gaubert.

Gary Broney, 60, was confined to a wheelchair. At the time of the fire, the State Fire Marshal says Broney was on an electric scooter.

"He wasn't saying much. He was just engulfed in flames. Nothing else was on fire, just him," says Gaubert.

"When I walked in he was all in flames. I tried to get past him to get the fire extinguisher which I couldn't because he had the hallway blocked," says Mark Hahn.

They immediately called 911.

"It's kind of an unusual call, but we were looking for a man in a wheelchair on fire. He was not in the front of the house. He was all the way to the rear of the house," says Keith Bouvier, a spokesperson for the Westwego Fire Department.

The State Fire Marshal's office told FOX 8 that Broney's body was found in the hallway between the kitchen and living room. The cause of the death is acute thermal injuries.

"There's very little damage inside the house. The fire was basically around the chair, so there's speculation that it possibly could have been the chair," says Bouvier.

According to the State Fire Marshal, Broney's scooter was a secondhand purchase, and they say the scooter had been repaired in the past for its wiring.

Still, the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Family members tell FOX 8 that Broney was confined to the chair because of a muscular disability.

"He was a wonderful soul. Every day he got in that chair, and he rode that chair to the store and he rode that chair back," says Deedee Leuchuga.

"He really liked to talk. He liked to be neighborly. He was very friendly," says Cindy Giovengo.

Broney lived with his nephew, the nephew's fiance and her 11-year-old daughter. At the time of the fire, only the girl and Broney were home.

"She was just traumatized. I kept re-assuring her there was nothing she could have done, you know?" says Leuchuga.

"It's going to stick in my mind for a long time. You never know how you're going to go, and that's not the way I'd want to go, in a fire," says Gaubert.

Broney leaves behind a daughter and grandchildren.

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