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The University Star




The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Mother of Iconic Village fire survivor becomes Texas’ Mother of the Year

Deona Jo Sutterfield (left) and Zachary Sutterfield (middle) smile for a photo with Whitney Sutterfield, Danny Sutterfield and Karl Sutterfield. 

Deona Jo Sutterfield (left) and Zachary Sutterfield (middle) smile for a photo with Whitney Sutterfield, Danny Sutterfield and Karl Sutterfield. 

Deona Jo Sutterfield’s role as a mother changed drastically on July 20, 2018, when her son was trapped in the middle of one of the most heartbreaking events in San Marcos history.
Hours before dawn that summer morning, a fire broke out in the Iconic Village Apartments, claiming the lives of five people, four of whom were Texas State students, displacing over 200 residents and burning 70% of Zachary Sutterfield’s body. 
Zachary escaped the fire inside the apartment by jumping out of a second-story window. He landed headfirst which led to extensive brain trauma and worries for his mother who was unaware of what that would mean for her son’s life. 
More than two years later, he has undergone 31 surgeries and is cared for by his mother, who was recently awarded Texas’ Mother of the Year by American Mothers, Inc., a national nonprofit aimed at recognizing maternal service and sacrifice.
Deona Jo served as a medic in the U.S. Army before joining the Texas National Guard as a heavy equipment operator. She believes her time in the military created resilience within her family and gave her the tools to take care of her son throughout his recovery.
“God gave me the ability to become a medic, and I had that training, I know enough to where I felt confident that I could take care of Zachary, and I do think that being a military family, we are definitely resilient,” Deona Jo says. “I didn’t want to sit and watch my child get sicker or get better. I wanted help with that. I think that kept me going.”
Upon arrival at Brooke Army Medical Center, Zachary was initially pronounced dead but was later was resuscitated. Deona Jo says witnessing her son in the hospital for the first time was one of the most painful events she ever encountered. 
“It was hard walking in that room, but if you ever stop walking in that room you’ve lost your loved one,” Deona Jo says. “It was very hard going in that room every day, but we were both so grateful to go in that room. A lot of times we stood in his room, and we sang to him because we always did when he was little. We sang to him and we prayed.”
Doctors informed his parents of the injuries and said it was likely Zachary would lose his hands, possibly his feet and eyesight. He had little chance of survival — words that would shatter the heart of any loving mother. 
“When the brain injury happened, he was in and out of it for the first two months. We were not able to talk to him or anything like that. He was laying on a bed, his head was swollen, and he had bandages all around him,” Deona Jo says. “[Zachary] had an emergency craniotomy because his brain was swelling, and fluid was building up so to help release the pressure they took out a piece of his skull.”
Deona Jo won the award after a nomination by Zachary, who sent in a letter detailing his accident and the unrelenting support and love shown by his mother throughout such a life-altering, devastating experience.
Zachary’s injuries forced him to re-learn everything from walking to eating. Through all of the physical and emotional difficulties he has encountered since the fire, he says he is grateful for the newfound bond he shares with his mother. 
“I don’t think I’d be walking today if it wasn’t for my mom. She helped me take my first steps, she fed me every day, she bathed me and did my wound care,” Zachary says. “To have your mom who has become your best friend, your advocate and your caretaker by your side, makes the journey [a] little easier.”
What means the most to Deona Jo is not the award, she says. It is the fact that Zachary nominated her — a heartfelt memory she will forever cling to.
“Reading my child’s letter after he nominated me made me realize I have a really great bond with my child, and while I’m honored to represent the state of Texas, I’m really honored to be Zachary Sutterfield’s mom,” Deona Jo says.
In addition to recognizing her commitment to Zachary’s recovery, Texas’ Mother of the Year award also honors Deona Jo’s advocacy for fire safety. The Sutterfield family is currently working on the creation of the nonprofit, Brighter than Fire, which seeks to educate college students and individuals entering the workforce on fire safety.
Deona Jo continues to work with Zachary every day to help him regain some autonomy, such as driving a car, adding that “he’s been doing great.” Zachary, who plans to get his hand rebuilt, injections and a hair transplant in the coming weeks, still wants to pursue his goal of returning to school and becoming a lawyer, and she is determined to help get him there. 
Personnel from the San Marcos Fire Department have continued to conduct regular visits with Zachary throughout his recovery and remain in contact with the Sutterfield family. Fire Marshal Kelly Kistner says he praises Deona Jo on her commitment to her son.
“This [Mother of the Year award] is totally about how amazing she is. [Deona] has given up her career to be there for [Zachary],” Kistner says. “It is so well deserved; you couldn’t ask for a better person to be recognized after everything she has done and helped Zachary go through.”
The Iconic Village apartment fire, which claimed the lives of Haley Frizzell, James Miranda, David Ortiz, Dru Estes and Belinda Moats, was ruled an arson on Nov. 30, 2018, following an investigation by city fire officials and a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 
According to the San Antonio Express-News, two individuals have been classified as “responsible third parties” in lawsuits against the owners and managers of Iconic Village Apartments, though no charges have been brought against them. The individuals are not the focus of the investigation, according to law enforcement agencies.
There is currently a $110,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible for the fire. A $25,000 donation from the Houston Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a $25,000 donation from the City of San Marcos, a $10,000 donation from the Chamber of Commerce, a $10,000 donation from the Frizzell and Ortiz family combined and a $40,000 donation from an anonymous donor within the business community make up the funds for the award.
Throughout her journey as a caregiver and mother, Deona Jo Sutterfield thinks back to the words of a fellow mother she says encountered a similar situation to find strength.
“You are your child’s advocate, you are their voice when they can’t speak, you are their friend when they are alone,” Deona Jo says. “You are going through a lot but don’t give up; your baby needs you.”

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  • The aftermath of the deadly June 20, 2018 Iconic Village Apartment Fire. 

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