High-rise fire victim: 'When elevator door opened...she just got blasted'

Shantel McCoy was killed early this morning after a fire ripped through the 12th floor of a building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. ((Family handout) / January 8, 2012)

A woman who had moved to Chicago last March died early today after she unwittingly went up an elevator as a fire was blasting through the 12th floor of the high-rise apartment where she lived, officials said.

When the doors to the elevator opened, Shantel McCoy -- who was returning to her apartment with a bag of food -- was hit with 1,500-degree temperatures from gas and fire fumes and killed, said Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva, a department spokesman.

The fire in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood also injured nine others early Sunday morning, according to authorities.

Firefighters were called to the 21-story building at 3130 North Lake Shore Dr. about 2 a.m., said Roccasalva.

The fire began in a unit on the 12th floor. A man and woman were awoken by their smoke detector and noticed that the fire was tearing through their living room, said Roccasalva.

The man and woman along with a dog managed to escape the apartment but the door to the unit did not close, which allowed the fire to spread through the hallway, he said. The man was treated for smoke inhalation while the woman refused medical attention, he said. It is believed that the dog survived.

"The door of the apartment that was on fire didn't close when they left and all the heat and gases and smoke poured into the hallway. When the elevator door opened up, she just got blasted," said Roccasalva.

Officials with the Cook County medical examiner's office determined today that McCoy died of carbon monoxide intoxication and inhalation of smoke and soot.

Older residential buildings in Chicago are not required to have sprinkler systems installed, according to the city. Older residential buildings can either install sprinkler systems or they can be evaluated and other safety upgrades can be put in place, according to a building department spokesman.

The city council recently passed an extension which put off until 2015 the deadline for when building owners need to have the work done, according to the spokesman. The deadline for the implementation process had been set for this month.

An employee of the building’s management company, Planned Property Management, declined to comment at the scene. The company’s president and chief executive officer, Robert Buford, was appointed to the city’s Community Development Commission in July.

McCoy, 32,  had moved from Philadelphia to Chicago after she had been laid off from her job the previous year with an accounting firm in Philadelphia. She was looking for a new place to start over, said her mother JoAnn.

"She said, I'm moving to Chicago mom," her mother recalled.

The woman had friends in Chicago and had visited several times over the years and liked the vitality of the city, said JoAnn.

The woman spent 100 days at sea with a school program where she spent a semester and  visited 10 countries, including India and Africa, said her mother.

That's where she got the travel bug and since then has visited the Bahamas three times and for her 30th birthday traveled to Switzerland alone, her mother said.

She picked Chicago to join several of her college friends who had moved here.

"She was just ready to relocate to a new city," said her mother. "She just picked Chicago to move to. She loved the city and of the several cities she was looking to relocate to, she picked Chicago."

Once here, she got a job with the Wirtz Beverage Group and her mother believes she worked as a sales representative.