UPDATE: Elderly Greenville woman allegedly started fire, leading to son’s death

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 4:59 pm on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

GREENVILLE— An elderly Greenville woman allegedly started a fire while her son was sleeping, causing a fire that led to the son’s death a month and a half later.

Dennis Vanderzand

Dennis Vanderzand, 65, died March 1 (not Thursday, as previously reported). Vanderzand was rescued by officers from the Greenville Department of Public Safety after a fire was intentionally set at 313 E. Cass St. on Jan. 13.

Donn Mendricks of Grand Rapids, formerly of Gowen, was Vanderzand’s friend and has power of attorney for him. The two men met over CB radio. They later obtained radio licenses together.

Mendricks said Vanderzand moved in with his mother, Jackulene Mraz, 83, to help her in her old age, as well as to have a place to live. Mendricks said Mraz has been diagnosed with severe dementia and psychosis.

According to Mendricks, during the early morning hours of Jan. 13, Mraz wanted Vanderzand to get out of bed, but he declined. Mraz then allegedly took a lighter and lit a jacket that was laying across Vanderzand in his bed.

“He couldn’t get to the window or door because of the smoke, but the firefighters broke the window and got him out,” Mendricks said.

After he was rescued, Vanderzand told the Greenville Department of Public Safety that Mraz set his clothes on fire in his bedroom on the second floor.

Mendricks said Vanderzand was recovering and doing well in a local hospital, but then he started to deteriorate. Mendricks said doctors attempted to attach skin grafts to his body, but they learned Vanderzand had cancer and the grafts didn’t take. Vanderzand then developed several infections, including pneumonia, which Mendricks said was caused by inhalation of heat and smoke from the fire.

Mendricks said Mraz has been living in an assisted living facility in Lansing since the fire.

“Her health has deteriorated,” he said. “She has just declined immensely in the last few months.”

Mendricks visited with Vanderzand often before he died March 1.

“He knew that she was not in her right mind,” said Mendricks of Vanderzand and his mother. “He was (angry) about the situation, but he wasn’t necessarily (angry) at her. He was more (angry) at not knowing why. I believe that in his heart he had forgiven her.

“Everybody knew he was a great guy,” he added. “He was a really great guy.”

Greenville Department of Public Safety Interim Director Gary Valentine said he believes Vanderzand died from complications from his injuries.

“We are awaiting the results of the autopsy from the medical examiner’s office and once that has been received, it will all be given to the (Montcalm County) Prosecutor (Andrea Krause) for final review and determinations,” Valentine said.

Vanderzand is survived by his three children, Ronald A. Vanderzand, Rebecca L. Quale and William J. Morris, none of whom could be reached for comment.

A private memorial service will take place at a later date. Arsulowicz Funeral Home in Grand Rapids is handling funeral arrangements.

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