Ocean City church fire kills pastor, homeless man

OCEAN CITY, Md. (WJLA) - A man who had somehow caught fire ran into an Ocean City church seeking help, setting the building ablaze Tuesday morning and claiming the life of both himself and the church's popular pastor.

The fire at the St. Paul's By the Sea Episcopal Church broke out just before 9:30 a.m., fire officials say, when 56-year-old John Raymond Sterner ran into the structure while on fire. Authorities believe that the fire quickly spread to draperies inside, which caused the flames to rapidly spread.

Officials say that the blaze started in a ground floor pantry and porch space of the Baltimore Avenue church, which are located in the church's rectory; a portion of the church that provided vital services to the needy.

"Someone tried to put them out," parishoner Mark Larsen said.

Firefighters who responded to the scene were able to get the blaze under control, but quickly found Sterner dead inside. During a further search of the building, first responders discovered the church rector, Rev. David Dingwall, unconscious.

Dingwall was taken to Atlantic General Hospital for treatment, but he died a short time later. A woman who was also injured in the fire remains at an area hospital.

"I am heartbroken," church organist Shirley Hailey said. "I am sick."

The sanctuary of the historic Ocean City church escaped the worst of the damage, but the loss of the Dingwall and Sterner has left the community heartbroken, Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore said in a statement.

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