August 24, 2007 at 3:43 PM CDT - Updated July 26 at 12:15 PM
Brother of NBA Star Dies in House Fire By: Carly O'Keefe
BENTON, Ill. - Jeff Collins, younger brother of NBA great Doug Collins was killed in an early morning fire at his Benton, Illinois home Friday.
Fire Fighters say the body of the 52 year old was found near front door. They believe he may have been trying to escape when he was overcome by smoke.
"It's tough for me, I just get tore up about it," said Firefighter Shane Cockrum who responded to the early morning blaze. Jeff Collins used to be Cockrum's neighbor.
"He was one of those guys who'd come over and shake your hand and say hey, 'I'm Jeff, whatever you need, if there's anything I can do for you, let me know.' You don't have neighbors like that anymore," said Cockrum.
Collins' current neighbor, Clyde Bean says he smelled smoke an hour and a half before the fire was reported by a pedestrian passing Collins house.
"I smelled smoke about 11:30, it was a distinct smell. I used my light to try to shine on some smoke, but I couldn't find anything," said Bean.
Bean says as hard as he tried, he couldn't seem to find where the smoke smell was coming from.
"It's been bothering me all night, because I keep thinking if I'd just looked a little longer, I might have saved a life," said Bean.
Ironically, Firefighter Cockrum was there to help Collins through a previous house fire back in 2004.
"He came knocking on my door. 'Shane Shane Shane! My house is on fire!' I said, 'what happened?" he said I don't know I must have fallen asleep. So we called 911 and helped him put it out," Cockrum said.
Cockrum and Bean say that in the 2004 fire, Collins was saved by his dog. The dog allegedly woke Collins giving him enough time to escape. Sadly, that dog wasn't around to save Collins this time. It had since passed away and was buried beneath a tiny cross in the backyard.
This was the first fire related fatality in Benton in more than 20 years.