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Saves Wife, Baby but He and 2 Daughters Perish : Father Dies in Fire Rescue Attempt

Times Staff Writer

A man who helped his pregnant wife and infant child to escape their burning house near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum early Sunday died when he rushed back inside in an attempt to save two daughters who also perished in the blaze, fire officials said.

Allison Cornejo, 27, was overcome by smoke at the top of a staircase leading to bedrooms where his daughters Jennifer Lee, 3, and Ann Marie, 2, died when flames swept through the house in the 200 block of West 42nd Place.

Cornejo’s brother, Adolf, 25, who had been asleep in an upstairs bedroom, also tried to save the two girls but ran out of the house when his clothes caught fire, family members said.

He was rushed to California Hospital Medical Center and later transferred to the burn unit at County-USC Medical Center. A nursing supervisor said he was in stable condition with second- and third-degree burns over his face, hands and chest.

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Nine members of the family were in the house when fumes from a gas water heater apparently were ignited by a pilot light, setting off an explosion about 6 a.m., fire officials said.

Raymond Cornejo, father of Allison and Adolf, said he was sleeping in a downstairs bedroom with his wife, Perta, and 5-year-old grandson, Jason, when he was awakened by the blast.

They had escaped to the front lawn when Allison Cornejo, cradling his 1-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, came out of the house with his pregnant wife, Janet, Raymond Cornejo said.

“I could hear her (Janet) screaming, ‘Allie! Allie! Ann Marie and Jenny are still inside!’ ” Raymond Cornejo said. “My son handed me the baby and said, ‘Dad, help me with the others.’ I said, ‘Son, we can’t make it.’ But he ran back inside.”

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Raymond Cornejo said he grabbed a garden hose and used a ladder to climb onto a ledge beneath a second-floor window. He punched out the window, cutting his hand, and hollered, “Allie! The window! The window!”

Son’s Clothes on Fire

“I couldn’t see him,” Cornejo said. “The smoke was too much. The neighbors came by, but they couldn’t do anything. It moved too fast.”

Before firefighters arrived at the scene, Adolf Cornejo had dashed out of the house and his father used the hose to extinguish his flaming clothes.

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“He was on fire all over,” Raymond Cornejo said. “It was horrible.”

Neighbors said flames were shooting through the roof when firefighters arrived shortly after 6 a.m.

“It was a fast-moving fire, no question,” said Fire Department spokesman Gary Snyder.

It took about half an hour for seven fire units to extinguish the greater-alarm blaze, which caused $142,500 damage, Fire Department spokesman Jim Williamson said.

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Raymond Cornejo said the water heater was purchased new about a year ago.

Relatives said Allison Cornejo was a member of the National Guard and once attended the Los Angeles Police Academy before he decided to enroll in college courses with hopes of becoming a lawyer. He was employed by Imperial Oil and Grease Co. in Los Angeles.

The elder Cornejo, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said he was concerned about his daughter-in-law, who is expecting another child next month.

“She is taking it very hard,” he said.

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A charred photo album was among the few items saved from the house where the elder Cornejo had lived for the last three years with his wife, his three sons, his daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.

Surrounded by relatives in front of the smoldering remains, Raymond Cornejo flipped through the pages with his bloodied hand.

“His family was his life,” Cornejo said of his son Allison. “He gave up his life to save his daughters.”


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