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Leap of faith saves family from fire

Ola Turner and her two children survived jumping from their third-floor apartment Aug. 31
by: Jaime Valdez, HAPPY DAYS — Ola Turner and her two children — 6-year-old Alyjah Carrasco-Turner and 9-year-old Jeri Turner — are moving into a fully furnished apartment today after narrowly escaping last week’s two-alarm fire at the Bonita Villa Apartments.

TIGARD - One week ago, with smoke billowing behind her and fire burning underneath her, Ola Turner closed her eyes and took a leap of faith - off her third-floor balcony onto a blanket stretched out between several men on the ground below.

Turner and her two young children were trapped in their Bonita Villa apartment last Thursday after a fire broke out and prevented them from reaching a stairwell and safety.

Today, only a week later, despite losing everything they owned, the family is moving into another Bonita Villa apartment almost completely furnished thanks to the generosity of Anita Hood.

Hood is the mother of Sydney Sherwood, executive director of the Good Neighbor Center, where Turner lived until moving into Bonita Villa in June. Hood recently moved from a house in King City into Pacific Pointe Retirement Inn and purchased all new furniture, which lead to Turner being the recipient of her largesse.

But Turner wasn't thinking of her possessions when she was forced to drop her children - 9-year-old Jeri Turner and 6-year-old Alyjah Carrasco-Turner - off the balcony before leaping herself.

Ironically, she had moved to Tigard to start her life over after living in Salem and then moving to Phoenix for a while.

'I drove back with $200 in my pocket,' she said. 'We loaded up everything we could and moved into the Good Neighbor Center for about three months. We started out very comfortable in our apartment, with a couch, TV, kitchen and bathroom stuff, and we all had our own beds.'

Last Thursday, after the family finished dinner, Turner was out on her balcony when Alyjah told her he saw smoke.

Turner called 911 and while on the phone, saw more smoke that looked like it was coming from underneath her balcony and then flames.

'There are two sets of stairs - one in front and one in back - but I didn't know where the fire originated,' she said. 'My apartment is filling up with smoke, and I'm telling 911 that we're trapped. I tried to tie blankets together, but they came undone. I could hear neighbors yelling for us to get out, that we were the only ones left.

'I yelled, 'I need a ladder,' but they yelled for us to jump. My daughter just got into it. My son was screaming, and she just pushed him out of the way and ran to the balcony. I was in a fog, standing there in a daze saying, 'We can't jump.' My daughter said, 'Yes, we can,' and I lowered her over the railing, and she dropped.'

The people below had not yet found a blanket, so they caught Jeri in their arms.

Turner had a little more trouble with her son, who when she put him over the railing would not let go.

'I still have bruises on my arm from him hanging on as I was trying to shake him loose, which sounds terrible,' Turner said.

'If you put this in perspective, what other choice do you make? We could have waited, but I didn't know how long it would be before firefighters arrived. I figured maybe at the worse we would have broken bones. I'm bigger than my kids and wondered if the guys would catch me. I closed my eyes and let go.

'By then, the blanket was in place. I thought, if I hit it, great, if I don't, I don't. I landed on my feet on the blanket. Then I opened my eyes and was surprised I was on my feet.'

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue arrived less than a minute after Turner jumped, and the American Red Cross opened a shelter for the displaced tenants, but Turner chose to stay with a friend that first night.

Before she even started thinking how she would furnish a new apartment, Sherwood stepped in.

'My mother moved into Pacific Pointe the first of July, and she wanted to sell all her stuff,' Sherwood said. 'All summer I was going to do a garage sale, but with the heat and being busy, I just didn't do it. This is one of those things that just all came together like it was meant to be. Things happen for a reason.

'I called my mother and asked her, 'Do you want the cash or do you want a write-off?' She chose the write-off. This is a win-win situation for her, me and Ola.'

Meeting Turner on Tuesday at the Good Neighbor Center, Sherwood described what she would receive.

'It's all nice stuff,' Sherwood said. 'It all matches. There's a dining room set that seats four, or eight with the leaf, a computer desk, rugs. There's dishes - service for eight, kitchen equipment, measuring cups, pots and pans, wall decorations, towels, washrags. All Ola needs is bunk beds and a television set.'

When Turner moves into her new apartment in Bonita Villa today, the Good Neighbor Center will provide her with a food box to get the family started.

'When Ola was staying here, she just rocked,' Sherwood said. 'She did everything she could to get back on her feet.'

Turner now views her situation as 'not that bad.'

'If it had happened a year after leaving the Good Neighbor Center, that would have sucked,' she said. 'My daughter's leg hurts, and I have a couple bruises on my legs and arms. But we didn't have to go to the hospital. We didn't have any lung damage.'

Sherwood interjected, 'It could have been much worse.'

Turner is amazed by all the media attention she's received - when she went into Rite Aid, a clerk said, 'You're a celebrity.'

'I don't feel heroic,' Turner said. 'It's not like we stood on the railing and jumped. We lowered ourselves, so we didn't fall as far. If it were six stories, I would jump. They jumped out of the World Trade Center. You just don't want to burn.

'I've done a lot of jumping into the Santiam River, and I knew it would be quick. You don't have time to think, but drowning, suffocating, burning all take time - you would have to think about it. My daughter and I could now hire ourselves out as stunt doubles.'

If anyone can donate bunk beds or a television set to Turner, or other household items to people leaving the Good Neighbor Center, call Sherwood at 503-443-6084, ext. 228.