Burbank Policer Officer Brent Fekety responed to the 911 call from Ed Lattner's neighbors this morning.
His house was on fire.
The nearby engine and rescue ambulance from Fire Station 15 were across town doing a training exercise, so it would take a couple of minutes longer for Engine 11 to arrive from Third and Orange Grove.
Firefighters arrived moments later and found Ed breathing but suffering from burns. They rushed him to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center.
Neighbors gathered outside his house where his sofa, his melted TV and some other furniture were on the lawn --- not far from where the singed clothes they had cut off of him lay.
He was always walking --- regardless of the weather.
And everyone knew where he lived. To strangers, the plain house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood seemed to be abandoned.
The lawn was always in need of water, a good mowing and edging. There were no plants outside, except a tree near the curb --- a tree that had unkempt bushes growing without maintenance.
There was no car in the driveway and nothing but some seemingly unused city trash containers in front of the detatched garage.
No signs of anyone living there.
At night, the place seemed to be completely dark --- nothing to see behind the always-drawn shades. If you stood on the sidewalk for a while at night, however, you could eventually distinguish a trace of light through the edge of a window -- a glow that looked different from the reflection of the street lights.
Neighbors say that his parents built the house back in the '30s and Ed has never lived anywhere else. His folks died quite a few years ago and Ed stayed in the house.
"He's always been a recluse," one neighbor told me.
They were trying to piece together his story. They say he has a half-brother living out of state --- far away. Word has it that he they tried to get Ed to go there, but Ed refused.
"If I go with you," a neighbor quoted him as saying, "you'll sell my house and take all my money."
As Fritz and I walked back home, I encountered the parking enforcement woman. The minute I told her that the house that burned belongs to the old man who is always out walking, she knew who I was talking about.
Everyone would see him on his daily and evening walks.
Everybody is fond of the old man in dark clothes who walks with his head down --- even though he believes he has no friends.
That can happen to recluses.