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Stranger Leads Partially Blind, Deaf Couple Out of Burning Apartment

January 7, 1987

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Helena Merrill, who is blind and deaf, at first resisted the stranger in her home - until she realized he was leading her and her husband out of their burning apartment.

″They knew I was their friend then,″ said Ron Frelix.

Frelix, 28, was washing his car Tuesday afternoon when he saw William Merrill, who is deaf and has limited vision, trying to pull a burning television set from his apartment.

Frelix went into the apartment, where a couch also was burning, and began looking for Mrs. Merrill. He found the 66-year-old woman, who is blind and deaf, in a basement, where she had been doing laundry.

″I tried to get her to come upstairs but she kept pulling away, she kept resisting me. I pulled her step by step and she was fighting me,″ Frelix said.

Frelix tapped Merrill, 65, on his shoulder to alert him of his return, grabbed his hand and placed it in his wife’s hand.

″I wanted them to know they were together and he started making motions with his hand in hers,″ said Frelix, who later learned Merrill was using sign language to communicate with his wife.

Frelix led them to his apartment a few feet away and called the fire department.

Fire investigator Jack Boyer estimated the loss at $34,000, and ruled that the fire was caused by faulty wiring. The couple is staying with a friend.

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