A north Omaha resident who went to the aid of an elderly couple last week said Sunday he believes he was meant to be there.
Gary Burns, 36, said he took the long route home Thursday morning after picking up a pack of cigarettes at the Walgreens store at 30th Street and Martin Avenue. That's when he heard a woman calling for help.
“I guess I was meant to go that way that morning,” Burns said. “I'm just so glad I did.”
Burns' decision to take Ernst Street took him straight to what police say was a crime in progress.
Terrance Hale, 30, of Omaha, is accused of breaking into the home of Raymond Vasholz, 83, and his wife, Elizabeth, 76, at 7124 N. 33rd St., starting a fire and assaulting the couple after they came downstairs to investigate.
Prosecutors on Monday said Hale threw a brick through the window of the Vasholz home, which is near his residence at 3316 Ernst St. He demanded money from the couple, but they told him they didn't have any.
Prosecutors said Hale used furniture to block two exits from the housebefore setting it on fire.
Hale was charged with first-degree murder, arson, attempted robbery and burglary. He was ordered held without bail in the Douglas County Correctional Center.
Raymond Vasholz was pronounced dead at Creighton University Medical Center, and his wife was taken in critical condition to the burn unit at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said investigators spent Friday interviewing Elizabeth Vashholz, who is recovering but remains in critical condition.
Burns said he was at the corner of 33rd and Ernst Streets about 9 a.m. when he heard a woman calling, “Help! Help me!”
He looked over and saw Elizabeth Vasholz on the porch of her next-door neighbor's house “without a shirt, looking beat-up and bloody, with soot on her face,” he said.
Burns said he also saw Hale approaching the woman, so he slammed on his brakes, got out of the car and began to shout at the man, asking what was going on.
Burns said Hale yelled, “I didn't do this! I didn't do this!”
Elizabeth Vasholz said to Hale, “You did it. You started this,” Burns said.
Burns said he got between Vasholz and Hale and called 911.
“The 911 operator said there was another call about a fire, and that's when I noticed the smoke coming out of the west side of the (Vasholz) house next door,” Burns said. “The woman said, 'My husband's still inside.'”
Police and firefighters were on the scene quickly, Burns said, and he told them that Raymond Vasholz was inside the burning house. Firefighters wrapped a blanket around Elizabeth Vasholz. Hale, who was pacing and mumbling, was taken into custody by police.
Burns said he stayed on the scene a couple of hours to offer any assistance to investigators.
“It kind of keeps wandering through my mind that I might have saved Mr. Vasholz if I went in to get him, but I didn't want to leave (Hale) alone with the woman,” Burns said. “I just can't believe someone would do those things.”
The Vasholzes, residents of the home for 38 years, were the parents of Beverly Flynn, 47, one of eight people killed in the Von Maur shootings in December 2007.
“I couldn't believe it when I heard that,” Burns said. “For one family to know so much tragedy. ... I just wish I could've done more to help.”
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