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‘A great guy when he was sober:’ Mother of Transcona fire victim pleads for alcohol addiction resources

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Daphne Nixon, mother of Keith Zilinsky, who died in a house fire Sunday, speaks to Global News about finding out about her son's death – Feb 3, 2020

A Winnipeg mother says her son struggled with alcohol addiction and believes that addiction led to his death in a house fire in Transcona Sunday night.

Daphne Nixon says she believes her son, Keith Zilinsky, passed out from alcohol Sunday night and when his house caught fire, he wasn’t able to escape.

The City of Winnipeg says fire crews were called around 7:45 p.m. Sunday to a home in the 500 block of Grassie Boulevard.

According to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS), heavy flames and thick smoke were coming from the home upon fire crews’ arrival.

A fire at a home in the 500 block of Grassie Boulevard in Transcona. Submitted via Twitter

After an immediate search inside, crews found one person, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

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The phone rang and Nixon’s husband, Tim, listened to the message.

“Here it was, the neighbour beside him, Annette, and her voicemail as she left for us — the house is on fire. Majorly.

“‘They got Keith outside on the road. They’re working on him, but he’s not responding. Get down here as fast as you can.'”

The house was hers, said Nixon, and Zilinsky was living there. She and Tim raced to the house but could tell from a few blocks away that the house was gone.

A few hours later, they were told that Zilinsky didn’t make it.

Zilinsky had two daughters, Nixon said — a 23-year-old and a 14-year-old.

A nearby neighbour, who asked not to be named, said he and his wife were watching the Super Bowl when his wife looked out the window and noticed the flames.

The neighbour ran out into the street, where he met up with someone else and police arrived and kicked down the door.

“There was smoke in the house, like, you couldn’t see anything, but they went low with the light and [the officer] could see [Zilinsky’s] feet.”
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Fatal fire in Transcona – Feb 3, 2020

When firefighters arrived, they pulled Zilinsky from the home, but he was already gone, said the neighbour.

“Just, happened quick. I wasn’t thinking,” the neighbour said.

“I mean, it’s your neighbourhood, you live here, you watch out for your neighbours.

“It hits home for everybody because it’s a bad thing when somebody loses their life like that. Terrible.”

A great guy sober

Nixon pulled no punches when talking about her son’s struggles with alcohol.

“Keith is known to the police for drinking,” she said. “He’s been picked up many, many times, spent so many different nights in the drunk tank and in jail.”

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That drinking, his parents believe, led to him being asleep or passed out when the house caught fire.

WFPS says the home suffered significant damage, however the cause remains under investigation.

He struggled with alcohol from the time he was 16,” said Nixon. “But at first, it wasn’t bad. He was only Friday night or Saturday, never both.

Keith Zilinsky with one of his daughters.
Keith Zilinsky with one of his daughters. Facebook/Handout

“It just spiralled from there on. So for the past 12 years, I don’t think he’s been sober for more than two weeks at a time.”

Nixon said he turned to Alcoholics Anonymous and the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba for help, but didn’t find a program that met his needs.

AA was too focused on the Bible, said Nixon, and other programs were for drug addiction, not alcohol.

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Mother of man killed in Transcona house fire says he struggled with alcoholism – Feb 4, 2020

“When he was drunk, he was horrible. You didn’t want to be around him … You’d question him, like, what are you talking about? He’d get mad.

By speaking frankly about her son’s addictions, Nixon said she hopes it spotlights the lack of addiction resources in the province.

If it could save one person, that’s all that matters. Just one person. But their family doesn’t have to go through what I’m going through. It hurts too much.”

-With files from Joe Scarpelli

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