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Woman killed in house fire was on Maui to meet grandson


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Washington state woman who died in a fire on Maui was visiting Hawaii to see her 1-month-old grandson for the first time.

Cheryl Lynn Ledbetter, 49, of Olympia died in a house fire the morning she was planning to meet him.

“;She was really looking forward to visiting her daughter over on Lanai,”; said Carrie Cornwell, who was in the house with Ledbetter during the fire. “;She was so excited about catching that ferry to see her daughter and her grandkids. It's not fair,”; she said by phone from Maui on Saturday.

Ledbetter's daughter, Krista Kanno, said her mother learned she was coming to Hawaii less than a week before she arrived.

“;It was just like a last-minute trip,”; said Kanno, 27. “;She was excited because her boss just gave her the tickets out of nowhere.

“;She just thought this was a gift from God,”; Kanno continued. “;She'd been wanting to see the baby. It's just such a tragedy and it's just so weird. It just doesn't make any sense,”; she said.

Firefighters said the single-story house on Kini Drive caught on fire at about 1:15 a.m. Oct. 10. Cornwell was the only one to make it out of the house unharmed.

A man who lived at the house, whom Cornwell knows only as Jimmy, suffered burns over 40 percent of his body when he went back into the burning house to try and rescue Ledbetter. He was flown to a burn unit at Straub Clinic & Hospital on Oahu.

Firefighters found Ledbetter's body after extinguishing the fire and did not immediately find a cause.

Ledbetter's husband, Tommy, said a Maui detective told him the fire started when Ledbetter fell asleep with a lit cigarette.

Cornwell did not know how the fire began and recalled waking up to see a wall of fire. She ran out the house.

“;Everything happened so fast,”; she said.

Cornwell, 52, said she had met Ledbetter, her best friend, while they were both single mothers attending Maui Community College in the 1980s.

After 11 years on Maui, Ledbetter moved back to Washington, her home state, but the two kept in touch.

In Olympia, Ledbetter was an insurance broker and close with her 13-year-old son, her husband said.

“;I came apart when I heard about the incident,”; Tommy Ledbetter said by phone from Washington last week. “;Cheryl was a good woman. You couldn't find a better mother than she was.”;

Ledbetter is also survived by two stepdaughters and several grandchildren.