By Bonnie L. Jackson
Two deputies with the Sheriff’s Office were instrumental in saving the life of a Copiah County man as his house was consumed by fire.
William “Billy” Thornton is alive today because of the quick actions taken by Sheriff’s Deputy Adrian Starkey and Michael Stogner. Bertha Thornton, his wife, died in the fire.
Ellis Stuart, Copiah County Coroner confirmed that the State’s Medical Examiner stated that Mrs. Thornton died from smoke inhalation.
As tragic as it is to lose one life, the Thornton family was spared the greater tragedy of losing both parents by the quick actions of of the deputies.
They were the difference between life and death for William “Billy” Thornton.
Deputy Adrian Starkey was returning to the city of Hazlehurst on Highway 28 West when, “I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a glow from the fire in the sky. I was three or four miles past the point of the fire at that point,” Deputy Starkey stated.
“I turned my car around and tried to find the source of the glow. There wasn’t an access road so I drove across a pasture which took me directly to it,” Starkey continued.
Deputy Starkey has a 24 year career in law enforcement – 17 years with Crystal Springs and seven years with the Sheriff’s Office.
According to Deputy Starkey, he thought the fire was on Highway 28. “I radioed in that something was happening as I searched for the source of the glow in the sky,” he continued.
Deputies Starkey and Stogner both work the midnight shift.
Deputy Michael Stogner stated, “I heard Starkey’s radio call and made my way to where he was. At the time his call came in, I was on the interstate. We work the same midnight shift so we always work most calls as a team. It just comes natural for us to help each other out,” Deputy Stogner explained.
Deputy Starkey stated that as he got closer to the fire he realized that the fire was on Gallatin Street and he radioed the correct location into to dispatch.
“When I arrived on the scene around 1:10 a.m., a good portion of the house was fully engulfed. There was no access to the front door. So I went to the neighbor’s house to get some help and see if the house was occupied.,” Dpty. Starkey continued.
As it turns out, the neighbor is the Thornton’s daughter, Donna Thornton Little.
“As we went back to the house, I could hear Mr. Billy’s muffled cries for help. He was standing at the window in the only part of the house that was not on fire,” Starkey stated.
“I arrived at the scene about around 1:15 a.m. and saw Dep. Starkey standing at the window talking to Mr. Thornton,” stated Michael Stogner.
The deputies realized that Thornton was unable to get out of the house.
“I crawled through the window to get into the house. It was the only entrance to the house,” explained Stogner.
“I stripped down to my tee shirt so that Deputy Stogner could use my body armor for protection from the fire as he entered the house,” continued Dpty. Starkey.
“I pushed Mr. Billy out head first to Starkey,” Stogner stated.
“Once he was safely outside the house, his family took him to their home to attend to his injuries,” stated Starkey.
Mr. Thornton thought that his wife was in the hallway. So the deputies turned their attention to trying to locate her.
“I was down on my knees with my flashlight on; and I still could not see the floor. The smoke was just that dense,” Stogner recalled.
“At that point the roof started to cave in. I told Stogner to get out. It was just too dangerous for him to stay in there any longer,” Starkey stated.
The fire was located just less that two miles outside the city limits.Volunteer firefighters started to arrived on the scene from Allen, Smyrna, Hazlehurst including city and volunteer, Bethel, Stronghope, Crystal Springs, Hopewell, and Wesson.
According to Randle Drane, Emergency Management Agency Director and County Fire Coordinator, there were at least 37 firefighters who helped put out this fire. Many of the volunteer firefighters have other jobs. So the call goes out until there are enough are on hand to fight the fire.
The Thorntons are a well-respected couple in the community who owned and operated a barber shop. Mr. Thornton, at one time was Deputy Starkey’s barber.
Deputy Starkey’s father is retired from Jackson Police Department, but now works in the same capacity for Copiah Lincoln Community College in Wesson.
Deputy Stogner is in the field because he loves it. Both are family men. Stogner is married with a six year old and Starkey is the father of two children ages 12 and 16.
While others see what the deputies did as above and beyond the call of duty, these deputies modestly explain what they did that night as simply doing their jobs.
Sheriff Harold Jones is very proud of his men; and the way they conduct themselves daily, but he is extremely proud of the heroism they displayed on December 28, 2011.
By Bonnie L. Jackson