Gas leak kills 2 men in Lake City

Officers force entry into home on Denver Street, find men dead

John Rawls and Willie Smith
John Rawls and Willie Smith

LAKE CITY, Fla. – Officers checking on welfare of two men on Saturday night found the Jacksonville residents dead of carbon monoxide poisoning inside a home on Denver Street in Lake City.

According to the Lake City Police Department, officers were responding to a call from Jacksonville that a woman had not heard from her husband since noon. Finding one of the men's vehicles in the driveway but getting no answer at the door, Officers Nikki Gunter and Peter Michaels looked in the window and found one man unresponsive in a chair inside.

Paramedics were called and the officers forced their way into the home about 9:53 p.m., finding the bodies of 48-year-old John Rawls and 74-year-old Willie Smith.

John Rawls and Willie Smith
John Rawls and Willie Smith

"I texted him, 'I love you so much, I love you, I miss you, I can't wait to see you,' and he never replied. I'm thinking he is tired," said Tammy Young-Park, Rawls' friend. "Got up Saturday morning, still no reply, and called him, no answer, no answer for hours. I started calling pop's phone. No answer, no answer."

"Pops" refers to Smith, Young-Park said.

Immediately upon entry into the home, first responders found Smith dead, but determined there were high levels of carbon monoxide inside due to a possible gas leak. The home was evacuated until the gas meter was pulled from the home and the home was deemed safe for re-entry by the Lake City Fire Department.

Authorities then found the Rawls dead in the bathroom of the home.

The initial investigation found no evidence of any suspicious activity in the death of the victims. The case was turned over to the Medical Examiner's Office.

The two men were renovating the home, which is owned by Smith's wife, Juanita Smith. She said it's hard to believe her husband is gone. She talked to him Friday on the phone and said he was excited about finishing up work on the house.

"He was almost done," she said. "He was so happy about finishing it up. And we sort of laughed about what he did."

"He was quite a character. He was outgoing, a happy man," Juanita added.

Young-Park and Rawls were going to be married in a week.

"The best part of him I have, which is his heart," Young-Park said. "He loved me unconditionally, and I love him unconditionally."