2010-07-08 / Front Page

Mother, 28, dies in heroic effort to save baby from fire

Four others in critical condition; cause of blaze still under investigation
BY PATRICIA A. MILLER
Staff Writer

Officials are investigating the cause of a fire at this home on Gatzmer Avenue, where a woman was killed and four other people were critically injured. JEFF GRANIT staff Officials are investigating the cause of a fire at this home on Gatzmer Avenue, where a woman was killed and four other people were critically injured. JEFF GRANIT staff JAMESBURG — Police and fire officials here are still reeling from the nightmarish fire last weekend that took the life of a 28-yearoldmother and left a critically injured son, sister, niece and nephew.

“It was very upsetting for all of us,” said Jamesburg Police Sgt. James Mennuti. “All of the officers have children.”

Jayme D. Lowenberg, a wife, mother and English teacher at Hillside High School, died after a heroic move to save her 10-month-old son Derrick from the intense heat, smoke and flames.

The first call about the fire at 217 Gatzmer Ave. came in at 12:31 a.m. By the time police and firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out of the porch area and the front of the twostory, wood-frame home.

Jayme was in the attic of the house, leaning out of the smoke-filled window. She handed her baby to a witness who officials described as a good Samaritan, John Muirhead.

“He went above and beyond,” Mennuti said. “He actually climbed up on the porch roof. She handed the baby to him. He handed the baby off to an officer.”

Then Jayme tried to save herself.

“By the time they turned around with the baby, she fell, hit the roof, then landed on the driveway,” Mennuti said.

Jayme died of head trauma. Her sister, Michelle Gonzalez, 25, who was visiting from Virginia, and her 2-year-old daughter and 10- month-old son were also in the house at the time of the fire. Gonzalez was listed in critical condition at Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge on Tuesday. The three children were listed in critical condition at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Mennuti said.

Jayme’s husband, George Lowenberg, was in Virginia at the time of the blaze, helping family members with a renovation project, he said.

The fire is under investigation by Mennuti and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. Its cause has not been determined, but is not considered suspicious, he said.

“It was very fast moving,” Mennuti said. “A lot of heat and smoke. The structure has a lot of heat and smoke damage. It’s in bad shape. Most of the inside is pretty much shot.”

The teaching staff and students held a vigil for the young teacher at Hillside High School on Tuesday morning with flowers, teddy bears and candles, said Vice Principal Ralph Rotando.

“I picked up the paper on Sunday morning like everyone else and was kind of floored,” he said. “It’s horrible and it’s sad. Obviously, she cared for her little boy. That’s the same compassion she had for her students. She went above and beyond. She was a great colleague. We will fill her spot, but we can’t replace her.”

Lowenberg had worked her way through college to become a teacher, he said.

“Jayme was pretty passionate about her teaching,” Rotando said. “She wanted to make sure she was able to help in any way possible.”

The Jamesburg, Helmetta, Monroe, Englishtown and Monmouth Junction fire departments responded to the blaze and were able to knock it down in less than half an hour, Mennuti said.

“They did a bang-up job,” he said. “I have to commend them.”

A witness, who arrived just before firefighters began knocking down the fire, described the fire as a scene out of a movie, with flames roaring out the front of the house. At two different points as firefighters worked, the front yard caught fire and also had to be extinguished, he said.

First aid squads from Jamesburg, Monroe, Cranbury, Spotswood and Monmouth Junction all responded to the scene, along with Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center paramedics, Mennuti said.

Monetary donations for the family can be sent to the TD Bank, 230 Forsgate Drive, Monroe Township, NJ 08831. Anyone who wants to donate clothing or furniture can contact the police department at 732-521-0011.

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