A resident of Old South Baton Rouge known by friends and family as a good Samaritan who often quoted Bible verses died early Tuesday morning when a fire engulfed his Myrtle Avenue home.
When firefighters arrived at the house of Tommy Lee Bates, located in the 800 block of Myrtle Avenue, shortly after 2:30 a.m., flames were shooting from the front and back of the home, according to the Baton Rouge Fire Department.
Firefighters battled the blaze until it was weak enough to enter the house safely. During a search of the residence, firefighters found Bates’ body, said Mark Miles, a fire department spokesman.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Miles said.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office ruled Bates’ death an accident. Bates died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to smoke inhalation, said Dr. Beau Clark, the parish coroner.
Various burned items were strewn across the yard in the aftermath of the fire.
A charred couch. A blackened beer bottle. A shoe.
Throughout the morning, cars slowed down while driving by Bates’ home.
“This is messed up,” one driver said through a rolled-down window. “I just saw him last night.”
Many neighbors made similar comments. They often saw him riding his bicycle in the neighborhood, where he was well known among residents.
“I just gave him a suit a week ago for his wife’s funeral,” said Steve Green, a tour bus driver who lives near Bates’ home, referencing the death of Charleen Bates. The couple had been separated for many years prior to her death.
Green was among the neighbors who went outside in the wee hours of the morning and witnessed the fire.
“It just happened so fast,” Green said. “The house was blazing.”
Willie Jones, 55, lives next to Bates’ home. Jones exited his residence as soon as he realized his neighbor’s home was burning.
“It was flaming pretty good,” Jones said.
Neighbors said Bates lived alone but he often let other people stay at his home, which didn’t have utilities. He welcomed the needy, they said, while encouraging others and helping out around the neighborhood.
“He had a very good, caring spirit,” said Tommy Lee Bates’ sister, Loretta Bates. “He was kind to everyone.”
She described her brother as a smart, loving man who thoroughly enjoyed her home-cooked red beans and rice. He also spent many hours studying the Bible, his sister said.
“He quoted a lot of Bible verses,” Loretta Bates said. “He knew so many. He loved God.”
Tommy Lee Bates usually spent a few hours a day working at the neighborhood store a few blocks from his home, the Southside Supermarket at the corner of Thomas H. Delpit Drive and Terrace Street.
Abdo Alhanuma, the supermarket’s owner, said Bates worked hard and didn’t cause trouble. He was intelligent, too, often engaging with Alhanuma — who is from Yemen — in discussions about the Middle East.
“He was a good guy,” Alhanuma said.
Charlene Moss, a friend of the Bates family, said she had known Bates practically her whole life. She called him her brother, although they weren’t related, and he called her “Cover Girl.”
“He would do anything for anybody in the neighborhood,” Moss said. “He was the go-to person always willing to help, always full of love and laughter.”
Moss said she last saw Bates on her way to church over the weekend. She waved to him, and he waved back.
“We’re just going to really, really, really miss him,” she said.
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