Fire that killed woman appears to be accidental

January 12, 2017 GMT

McALLEN — The fire that caused the death of an elderly McAllen woman is being treated as an accident, McAllen Fire Chief Ralph Balderas said Wednesday.

Jeanette Richardson Hawkins of McAllen died Tuesday just before 1 p.m. after the wheelchair she used caught fire, officials said.

At about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to the 1500 block of West Fern Avenue after neighbors reported hearing a series of loud bangs and screams coming from Hawkins residence.

Balderas said fire personnel arrived within three minutes of the call for service and found Hawkins on her backyard patio with extensive injuries.

“ Through the preliminary investigation we have ruled out criminal intent and believe the fire was accidental,” the chief said.

Balderas said they did check to see if an oxygen tank might have been the cause of the fire but that was ruled out.

According to the Gymnastics Association of Texas’ Facebook page, Hawkins served as gymnastics chairwoman for the South Texas AAU in the ’60s and ’70s, and later the chairwoman for the National AAU Junior Olympics.

Hawkins was also an associate professor who taught physical education in the 1970s and ’80s at Pan American College, and then as a coach for the gymnastics team when it was known as Pan American University, according to records provided by UTRGV officials.

Hawkins was 83 years old.