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Answering the cry for help: Man helps neighbors escape deadly fire

Demian Carter

It was just before 5:30 a.m. Jan. 15 when Demian Carter woke up to the sounds of his neighbor yelling. Half awake, the 21-year-old said he wasn't exactly sure what was going on in the dim light before dawn.

Carter said he looked out the window of his apartment and saw an orange glow, which he thought at first was the blinking lights of a snow plow.

Then, Carter said, he saw his neighbor, Derrek Valicenti, 34, standing outside in the snow with no clothes on and Valicenti's aunt, Penny Parks, 47, hanging from a window on the second floor of the four-unit apartment building. According to Carter, it was 5 degrees below zero.

A fire had erupted in Unit 2, which is where Valicenti and Parks lived, Carter said. Carter lived in Unit 4.

After calling 911, Carter said he quickly got dressed and then went outside to help his neighbors.

"I sent Derrek back inside to my apartment," Carter said in a phone interview Monday. "I told him to go inside and get some clothes on."

Carter said he didn't want Valicenti going back to his own apartment, which is where the fire broke out.

Meanwhile, Carter said he went over to where Parks was hanging from the window, got underneath her and told her to let go and that he would catch her. Luckily, he said, she listened and let go. Neither of them was injured from the fall.

Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow said it was good that Carter had enough foresight to help.

"He caught Penny and broke her fall," Karrow said. "He pounded on doors trying to wake everyone up. He called 911. He was a little resource all on his own."

Even though Shandiin Goodbird, 19, died in the fire, Karrow said it could have been much worse if it wasn't for Carter's help.

"I was just trying to make sure everyone got out OK," Carter said.

Carter, who had just moved into the building in October, said he lost most of his possessions except his gun and bow for hunting and a few collectibles. The Red Cross, he added, was able to help him out. Having just started a new job as a service technician at Midwest Machinery in Little Falls, Carter said he is living temporarily at Camp Ripley.

The cause of the fire, which happened at the four-unit apartment building at 410 Fillmore St., hasn't been determined.

Six other adults lived in the apartment building. Valicenti and Parks suffered from burns and smoke inhalation and were flown to Regions Hospital in the Twin Cities where they were treated and released. The Red Cross was helping the four other fire victims with long-term recovery plans, according to Carrie Carlson-Guest, regional communications officer with the Minnesota Red Cross.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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