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Man pleads guilty in fire that caused mother's death

Published November 10. 2009 05:00PM

A former Slatington man who was charged with acting in a reckless or grossly negligent manner when he started a fire that killed his mother in February pleaded guilty on Monday, to involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Chad Matthew Lever, 26, was sentenced to two years of probation by Lehigh County Judge James T. Anthony.

First Assistant District Attorney Steven Luksa said the prosecution and defense reached an agreement for a binding sentence of probation.

Luksa said that the sentence was consistent with the wishes of the family of Lisa House, 47,who was lying in a bed and was trapped in her house at 424 W. Washington St. in Slatington after the fire started.

Lever was the primary caregiver for his mother, who had amyotrophic lateral schlerosis, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. House was unable to walk without assistance but had a walker and leg braces. She primarily was confined to an upstairs bedroom, according to Luksa.

Luksa told the judge that Lever is suffering from the loss of his mother and is grieving with the rest of the family. "We don't believe that incarceration would serve anyone," Luksa said.

He said that Detective Lou Tallarico of the Lehigh County Homicide Task Force, who investigated the case along with Slatington police, agreed with the resolution to the case.

Lever's two aunts, who were the sisters of House, told the judge they agreed with the plea.

"It was an awful accident," said Denise Reeser, adding that the family "does not see how any type of jail time…would serve a purpose."

Another sister, Donna Blose, told the judge that Lever and his mother got along very well.

Blose said Lever loved his mother and never wanted to hurt her. "This was a terrible accident," Blose said.

Luksa gave the following summary of the case:

At about 11 p.m. on Feb. 3, House was in bed in a second-floor bedroom when Lever went upstairs to look for one of the family's two cats. When the cat went under the bed, Lever used a lighter to illuminate the area under the bed.

The bedding caught fire, and Lever tried to get his mother out of the bed but was unsuccessful. Lever also tried to put out the fire but could not.

Emergency personnel, Slatington police and state police arrived at the scene. Slatington police were unable to put out the fire with fire extinguishers, and the Slatington Fire Department extinguished the fire.

House was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Salisbury Township. A forensic pathologist determined that House died of smoke inhalation. Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim ruled the manner of death as homicide, which means death at the hands of another.

In June Lever was charged with involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person.

In an interview with investigators, Lever said he repeatedly flicked the lighter to try to get the cat to come out from under the bed. Lever's statement was consistent with the evidence, Luksa said.

Luksa said Lever, who had been free on bail and has no criminal record, is working and has an apartment.

Defense lawyer John Baurkot said Lever was a good son who helped his mother to do many household and personal tasks. He said that Lever used a lighter to get the cats to jump up on his mother's bed and "it went terribly wrong this time."

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