Lynn woman seeks new smoking bill

LYNN – Nearly four years have passed since the death of Salem resident Theresa Reynolds in a house fire, but her sister, Billie Sprague, is still haunted by the way it occurred.In the early morning hours of March 27, 2004, Reynolds was asleep in her home with her husband, father and other relatives, when a houseguest, Deborah Borella, lit a cigarette while on an oxygen tank.Reynolds, 39, who was disabled, was unable to escape the burning home and ultimately died in the two-alarm blaze at 33 Rear Beaver St.Horrified by the situation, Sprague, a Lynn resident, decided to contact local officials to create a bill to hold individuals who use oxygen tanks and smoke responsible for their actions in the event serious injury or death occurs.Despite attempting to contact President George W. Bush, Assistant District Attorney Jessica Connors, and State Rep. Robert F. Fennell multiple times with letters and phone calls over the course of three years, Sprague said she is still awaiting a definitive answer.”It’s just so aggravating because I’ve written to so many people, and I haven’t really gotten anything back,” she said. “This woman killed my sister with her negligence?I just want justice for her.”Clutching a picture of Reynolds, Sprague described her sister as a kind-hearted woman who deeply loved her family and was a joy to be with.”She was only 39 years old and was the most loving person, best sister, daughter and wife,” she said. “She’d be willing to lend a hand to anyone she knew.”Acknowledging the numerous letters that Sprague has sent to him over the years, Fennell said he has indeed contacted her regarding the possibility of a bill.”I can file it, but I don’t want to get her hopes up too high because I’ve spoken to the Criminal Justice committee and the House and they said the bill would duplicate a current state law,” he said. “They told me that they wouldn’t recommend it and I told Sprague what they said.”In a letter sent to Sprague from Fennell, he advised her to contact the District Attorney’s office to prosecute the case and said that if they believe Reynolds perished in a wrongful death, she would be eligible to proceed with criminal charges.”I tried to do research on the topic and I understand that this was a tragic death, but I believe that she is somewhat confused,” Fennell said. “We can’t stop people from smoking in their own homes. If the DA deems the incident criminal intent, that’s one thing, but sometimes people accidentally kill people?I feel that I’ve done all that I can.”Sprague, however, isn’t satisfied with Fennell’s conclusion.”It’s just not right, there should be a law out there,” Sprague said. “Families shouldn’t have to wait three years or longer to receive justice for a death and I don’t think that I’m being taken seriously.”Sprague said she plans to collect signatures from people who believe that a law of some sort should be in place and said she will send the petition to local officials in the near future to pursue the cause.”It’s been a really, really horrible situation to have to deal with,” Sprague said. “There has to be a bill out there so that no other families have to go through the same thing that I have gone through.”

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