Boy Dies In Okmulgee Fire; Grandfather Arrested

Friday, March 20th 2009, 1:55 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

OKMULGEE, OK -- A 2-year-old boy is dead after his home caught fire Friday morning, and his grandfather is behind bars.

The fire at a home in the 1200 block of South Alabama was reported about 8:30 a.m., Okmulgee Police Chief Joe Prentice said.

Brycen Strong was found unconscious in a bedroom, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The boy's grandfather, 64-year-old Joe Strong, was arrested on a complaint of first-degree manslaughter. He told authorities he left the boy alone at the home for about two hours.

"Oh, it just kills you inside 'cause I have grandchildren of my own," next-door neighbor Wilma Walston said.

Walston says Brycen was a sweet little boy. She also says his grandfather was good caretaker.

"He loved that baby," Walston said. "He did. I seen him drive that baby all over town, you know. He had that baby with him all the time. So it had to be something that was really urgent that he had to do to leave that baby like that."

Strong said he left the boy alone while he ran an errand. That's when the fire started and took the boy's life.

"A child of that age is not able to fend for themselves and provide a safe environment for themselves, so that's obviously a problem," Prentice said.

According to state records, Joe Strong has a criminal history. In 1975, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life. He, apparently, was paroled after serving 11 years.

Strong was taking care of the little boy because the boy's mother is at the Okmulgee County Jail, the same place where Strong is being held for the boy's death.

Neighbors say the boy's father also died recently.

His grandmother, who was at work at the time of the fire, is the only one left outside this jail to mourn the toddler's death.

The whole situation, police say, is tragic.

"Obviously law enforcement is also somewhat jaded and calloused to these types of incidents, but it shocked me," Prentice said.

Firefighters found the boy unconscious on the bedroom floor. They are still investigating the cause of the fire, but say it started in the living room, near the couch.

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