Lawyer Still Has Dreams of Saving Partner

Times Staff Writer

For Jay C. Horton, the dream still comes, though less frequently.

He and four co-workers escape a fire in their Santa Ana office building, just like in 1983.

Horton realizes that his colleague, attorney Wesley Harrison, is not with them. And, just as three years ago, Horton heads back into the flaming building, trying to find Wes.

But in the dream, Horton finds Harrison. And they both make it to safety, unlike the reality of Dec. 19. "I replayed that fire every night for months, and every time I would get Wes out of the building," Horton recalled.

"I don't do that as often now, but I sometimes still have the dream."

Injured Five Others

The fire that killed Harrison, 33, a promising attorney, also injured five others and paralyzed the law firm of Horton, Barbaro & Reilly. The blaze in the newly renovated Builders Exchange Building at 200 N. Main St. destroyed most of the firm's files.

It began after a secretary discovered smoke coming from a typewriter. She told Horton, who went for a fire extinguisher. By the time he returned, the fire was out of control.

"What I did was help everybody to get out," Horton said. "We were on the street, the girls were yelling and crying.

"Then I realized Wes was still in the building.

"I crawled back down the hallway. I heard him calling for help and I could not find him.

"The lights were out and the smoke was intense and toxic. I could not find him.

"Finally, when pieces of ceiling started to come down behind me, I got out. I was crawling on my hands and knees, the smoke was so intense. That's how I burned my hands."

Horton said that it took 20 seconds to grab an extinguisher and return to the room that had the smoking typewriter, but by then the flames had reached the ceiling and the fire "was spreading very rapidly."

At least one of the secretaries who was injured has suffered "rather serious, continuing problems," Horton said. The burns on his hands have healed.

Harrison's widow, under a settlement reached Wednesday, will receive $1.6 million in cash and her daughter will get $15 million over her lifetime.

In a separate suit, Horton's firm has asked for $2.5 million from the nine firms which contributed toward the Harrisons' settlement.

He said he has proof that the fire was started by the IBM typewriter. The developer, contractor, architects of the building, and the firms that provided office furniture and design, also are accused in the suit of negligence. The building did not have an automatic sprinkler system above the basement.

Horton, sitting in the same room Wednesday where the fire broke out, said he is pleased with the Harrisons' settlement.

"It's a very adequate settlement," Horton said. "People worked real hard and were very sincere."

For his firm, the fire created "incredibly difficult problems." Horton said files are still being reconstructed, adding that that process will continue indefinitely.

As for the Builders Exchange, Horton said sprinklers "have been installed everywhere" and special fire-retardant materials were used in rebuilding walls and partitions.

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