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Middletown police, constable honored for efforts at fatal fire

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/3/18

Three Middletown police officers and a state constable were honored July 2 for their heroism in trying to rescue a woman from a house fire at 208 E. Roosevelt Ave. on March 19.

A group of 12 …

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Middletown police, constable honored for efforts at fatal fire

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Three Middletown police officers and a state constable were honored July 2 for their heroism in trying to rescue a woman from a house fire at 208 E. Roosevelt Ave. on March 19.

A group of 12 borough firefighters and emergency medical personnel had been similarly honored at the start of a Middletown borough council meeting May 16.

As he did on May 16, state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara, presented certificates acknowledging heroism to each of the four law enforcement personnel during the July 2 ceremony that was held in the office of Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette.

Honored were Constable Jeffrey T. Shank, Middletown Officers Adam Tankersley and Tyler Zehring, and Middletown police Detective Gary Rux.

Shank was first on the scene. He was driving home after serving warrants when he spotted fire coming from the back of the residence. He told someone outside with a cellphone to call 911. The first call to Middletown firefighters came in at 2:05 p.m.

The car port quickly was engulfed in flames. Shank couldn’t open the front door or get into the house from the back.

Tankersley was the first from MPD to arrive. He and Shank broke out some windows and kicked the front door in.

“We heard a female yelling for help. We believed her to be in the back room which turned out to be her bedroom,” Tankersley said, but they couldn’t get in through the door. “It was just too smoky. We couldn’t even see but two feet inside.”

A dog ran out after Shank and Tankersley kicked in the front door. Rux grabbed the dog and took it across the street and then ran back to assist Shank and Tankersley.

“The whole house was covered in black smoke” to where breathing was difficult even outside the residence, Rux said.

Shank and Tankersley smashed out more windows on the east and south sides of the house.

However, “the smoke was just too dark and too dense. We couldn’t even breathe,” Tankersley said.

They stripped off their gear to again try and get in, but the officers were stopped by Zehring, who was the shift supervisor for the day.

It was just dangerous for anyone other than the firefighters to go in, Zehring said. Firefighters climbed through the east side of the window and pulled the woman out.

Katina Nicol Wilkerson, 36, was taken to Lehigh Valley Burn Center in Allentown, where she died the next day. Cause of death was determined to be accidental, caused by inhalation of products of combustion, according to the Lehigh County Coroner’s office.

She left behind her 8-year-old son, Malachi, who was in school at the time of the fire. The dog survived, as well as two cats.

Investigators determined that the fire started from someone putting a cigarette butt in a coffee tin that was being used as an ashtray on a handrail. The tin was either blown or knocked off the rail, and landed in a recycling container, igniting the fire.

“Most people don’t realize it, but in almost every emergency the police arrive before anybody else arrives,” Mouchette said. “We have obviously some brave officers here who attempted to save lives, and put their own lives in danger, which makes me very proud to be their chief.”