October 26, 2014

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Affadavit suggests Sheffield Lake house fire had suspicious origin

This home at 4780 Pinewood Drive in Sheffield Lake was damaged by a fire early Saturday morning. Janet Earnhart was critically injured in the blaze that killed 7 pets. EVAN GOODENOW/CHRONICLE

This home at 4780 Pinewood Drive in Sheffield Lake was damaged by a fire on Jan. 21. Officials say the blaze that critically injured Janet Earnhart is suspicious. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Police are looking into a resident’s text messages and phone calls sent around the time of a Sheffield Lake house fire in January that authorities deemed suspicious.

According to an affidavit signed Jan. 21 and unsealed Friday in Lorain County Common Pleas Court, police are trying to determine what started the fire at 5:45 a.m. Jan. 11 that injured a woman and severely damaged the house at 4870 Pinewood Drive.

According to the affidavit, a resident of the house told authorities he was in the garage when the fire broke out and he went and alerted two residents and helped them escape. Authorities say that isn’t true.

According to the affidavit, the residents found the man in the garage when they fled the home, and the fire may have originated in his room.

Authorities said the man doused himself with gasoline and tried to set himself on fire four years ago after breaking up with a girlfriend. Hours before the Sheffield Lake fire, he had texted an ex-girlfriend — their relationship had ended recently — and mentioned suicide and that he couldn’t live without her, according to the affidavit.

A judge gave authorities the right to search the phone belonging to the man, who has not been charged, in January.

One of the home’s residents, Janet Earnhardt, 69, received burns, a broken leg and was hospitalized for smoke inhalation from the fire, which also killed three dogs and four cats, according to the affidavit.

Earnhardt was listed in fair condition at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland on Thursday.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.