Elderly Greenville woman will not be charged in son’s death

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:02 am on Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dennis Vanderzand

GREENVILLE — An elderly Greenville woman will not be charged with a crime after allegedly starting 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, 65, 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. He died on March 1 after an extended hospital stay.

“No charges will be filed in the case involving Dennis Vanderzand as the manner of his death was determined to be an accident, according to the Kent County medical examiner,” said Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause.

Donn Mendricks of Grand Rapids, formerly of Gowen, was Vanderzand’s friend and had power of attorney for him. 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.

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.”

Greenville Department of Public Safety Sgt. Gary Valentine previously told The Daily News he believed Vanderzand died from complications from his injuries.

Vanderzand is survived by his three children, Ronald A. Vanderzand, Rebecca L. Quale and William J. Morris.

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