Sister of man killed in fire: ‘There’s nobody like him’
Detroit — A 34-year-old man and longtime local DJ who died early Tuesday in a house fire was described by grieving friends and family as a spiritual, family-oriented father of two young children.
C. L. Lee Jr., also known as “DJ Shordy,” was killed his in bed after flames ripped through his home around 5:45 a.m. Tuesday on the 8800 block of Burnette Street, according to the man’s family. He was pronounced dead on arrival after being rushed to a local hospital.
“We listened to him,” said older sister Yolanda Crowley, 46. “He was younger (than me) but he was also my ‘big brother.’ There’s nobody like him.
“We thank God for having him in our lives for as long as we did.”
Other family members and friends remembered Lee as a loyal, generous man.
“If he told you he was going to do something, it was done,” cousin Dante Ellis said. “He was really spiritual, his father is a pastor. He was always just a very positive influence.”
Longtime friend and fellow DJ Rodney Day agreed.
“Shordy was the type of person who would give you his last,” said Day, who had known the victim for more than a dozen years.
Lee was the second youngest of five children, and the only boy in the family, Crowley said.
“He made sure that my mother and sisters, all his nieces were well-taken care of,” Crowley said. “He instructed all his nephews never to lay a hand on any of us, and to protect us.”
He also was father to two young children: 11-year-old C.L. Lee III and 9-year-old Gabrielle, Crowley said. Lee was separated from the children’s mother but adamant about remaining a strong presence in their lives.
“His children were his life,” Crowley said. “He was such a good father.”
Crowley, who lives in the state of Washington, said she was up early Thursday, unable to sleep.
“My biggest concern is for my nephew and niece,” she said. “That’s why I was up: I was thinking about them.”
Lee shunned texting in favor of phone calls, his sister said.
“He always wanted to hear our voice, and it didn’t matter the time of day or night,” Crowley said.
Lee’s death was ruled an accident caused by smoke and soot inhalation, according to Wayne County spokesman Lloyd Jackson. He was found lying in his bed, Crowley said.
Both Ellis and Day rushed to the scene when they began to suspect Lee was the victim.
“I pulled up and I seen the crime scene tape,” Day said. “It was just kind of surreal I guess. It’s tough. I think it just finally hit me last night that this is real.”
Ellis got to the scene later in the morning, before joining Lee’s parents and sisters at the hospital.
“At that point, we kind of knew it was him,” Ellis said. “He was just a great person overall. You couldn’t ask for a better family member, best friend, anything.”
Lee’s viewing is scheduled for 3-8 p.m. Feb. 26 at Heard and Taylor Family Funeral Home at 1540 W. Grand Blvd., according to Ellis. A funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. Feb. 27 at his father’s church, Beulah Grove at 18495 Wyoming St.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by family to help with funeral costs.
Day on Wednesday remembered Lee’s children often tagging along with their father to DJ events.
“If he had a DJ practice or could bring his kids to a venue, you know he would,” Day said.
The two friends met during a DJ battle at a club in southwest Detroit.
“He was there DJing and I kind of challenged him to a DJ battle,” Day said. “Obviously he beat me.”
After the encounter, Lee took Day under his wing, according to the friend. Lee had been steeped in the local DJ culture for around 20 years.
“I wasn’t great or anything, but be took me as I was,” Day said. “He basically taught me everything that he knew. I was a stranger to him and he brought me into his world and showed me the ropes.”
Lee’s death marks a blow to the local DJ community, Day said.
“He would use the vinyl to turn tables; he was old-school. That’s what set him apart from other DJs,” said Day, adding the skill could be compared to a modern photographer using film. “Someone with those skills, it’s definitely a big loss.”
But in recent years, Lee already was moving away from the DJ world in favor of a growing graphic design business, Day said. Lee had his sights set on sending his children to college.
“He was really starting to take things seriously, just starting to get things off the ground,” Day said.
Family was Lee’s constant focus, said Ellis, who added that his cousin loved joining his kids on activities like go-kart racing.
“It was always something and it all related back to family,” Ellis said.
Lee also owned three dogs, including one rescued from inside the burning home, Ellis said. The 3- or 4-year-old pit bull mix suffered smoke inhalation and minor burns, according to Theresa Sumpter, director and CEO of Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue. The dog, nicknamed Halle by her rescuers, also was extremely emaciated, Sumpter said.
“It does appear that she wasn’t receiving the correct amount of nutrients. It was neglect,” Sumpter said. “I feel bad that this gentleman is deceased, but he was not taking proper care of her.”
But Lee was a devoted dog lover whose other two dogs were well-cared for, according to Ellis. Those dogs remain missing after possibly escaping the home during the fire, he said.
“There’s no way he would have let that dog starve like that,” the cousin said. “He would feed his dogs before himself.”
Ellis said he suspects his cousin rescued the emaciated dog from the streets.
“Right now I’m trying to get ahold of the pit bull rescue that has his dog, because I talked to his kids’ mother last night and she wants to take the dog with her,” Ellis said. “The kids love that dog.”
Sumpter said Halle needs further medical care before the organization can address her future home. Meanwhile, a friend of the firefighter who rescued the pup has stepped forward with interest to adopt.
The rescue organization also remains open to other possibilities, including sending Halle back to Lee’s family, Sumpter said.
“All we know is that the dog was in very poor condition when we got her, but we would be certainly willing to listen to whatever a family member would like to tell us,” Sumpter said.
“We also want to make sure anyone who’s interested in taking the dog is able to provide a stable, loving environment,” she said. “We won’t rule anything out. The dog’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”
Despite the dog’s injuries, she remains friendly and playful, Sumpter said.
“Her spirits are good, she wants to give kisses and overall she’s just a very sweet, sweet dog,” Sumpter said. “It’s really miracle that she made it out of there.”
Arson investigators responded to the scene Tuesday but the blaze is not believed to be suspicious and no evidence of foul play was found, police have said.
There was no immediate official cause of the fire, according to Executive Fire Commissioner Eric Jones. But police suspect misuse of a space heater inside the home, Police Sgt. Michael Woody said Tuesday.
Day also said he believes the fire was sparked by Lee’s space heater use.
“I’ve known him for years and he was a big fan of space heaters,” Day said. “I don’t know why. I strongly discouraged it.”
There have been 10 fire fatalities so far this year, according to Jones. Some have been attributed to space heater misuse, while others were connected to firebombings or other causes.
But the mayor’s office early Tuesday did acknowledge that space heater fires are ongoing problems in the city.
“There was an apartment building we were going to close because there was inadequate heat,” spokesman Dan Austin said of the Barbara Apartments on the 500 block of West Grand Boulevard.
The 1920s-era building had more than 100 code violations, including rooms with temperatures around 30 degrees, Austin said. The building’s owner has since replaced the boiler system and fixed the heating issues, bringing unit temperatures into the 70s.
“When you get into a situation with 100 people all using space heaters, it’s a recipe for trouble,” Austin said.