They Just Happened To Be Passing By
The details of what happened on the night of November 2, 2009 will remain forever with many people of the Hatcher Hall community in Overton County. But those events will especially be with a family who lived there and a young couple who just happened to be passing by that night. What appeared at first glance to the young wife as a brush fire was actually a house that had caught fire. Both the husband and wife who lived in the home that had caught fire had serious health problems. The husband was confined to a hospital bed in the living room because of Alzheimers disease. The wife who had so faithfully and lovingly cared for her husband during his illness suffers from Parkinson disease. They were complete strangers to the young couple who were just passing by. Before going any further, here is just a bit of background information about a very courageous young man and his wife who stood by while he placed himself in harms way on that fateful night when the home of Edward and Aletha Gunnels caught fire and burned.
Tim Spellman
Liliana, baby daughter Valeska, and husband Tim Spellman just happened to be passing by the night of a terrible house fire in the Hatcher Hall community.


Tim Spellman was one of a family of five children who grew up in foster care in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. He never knew either one of his parents. While growing up in Kentucky, he learned a lot about dairy farming while working with an uncle who owned a dairy farm there. In 1991, he moved to Florida and did construction work part of the time, and he also drove a truck. But dairy farming was what he really wanted to do. He and a pretty young lady who later became his wife just happened to be on the same bus leaving from Atlanta, Georgia headed to Titusville, Florida, when they met. And it turned out, they lived within a mile of each other in Florida, but had never met until they boarded the same bus in Atlanta. Liliana Spellman grew up in Madrid, Spain, and later lived in England for six years before coming to this country. She and Tim are the parents of a beautiful little girl named Valeska who is 17 months old.

It was Tim’s search on the internet for a possible job on a dairy farm that brought him to see Britt Keisling, a dairy farmer in the Hatcher Hall community. Tim and Liliana decided they liked this area, and with Britt’s help, found a home to rent. It was only seven months ago that they moved here. They were on their way back home on the night they discovered Edward and Aletha Gunnels’ home was on fire. When they got to the house, the kitchen area was already engulfed in flames and the rest of the house was completely filled with smoke. While Liliana went to nearby neighbors to call 911, Tim learned that Edward was still inside and assumed he was in one of the bedrooms toward the back of the house. He knew he must do what he could to try and rescue him. Because the smoke made it impossible to see anything inside the house, Tim had to crawl on his hands and knees to try and find the hospital bed where Edward was. Not knowing anything about how the rooms in the house were arranged, he had no idea which direction to go in. It was only when he bumped his head on the hospital bed that he realized it was there in the living room right in front of him. It was already on fire when Tim got to it. When he reached out to Edward, he heard these words, "Please help me." Tim didn’t know it, but this was the first time Edward had spoken in many weeks. Tim’s first attempt to try and lift Edward over the rails of the bed was not successful, and because of the heavy smoke in the room, he had to leave him long enough to get some air. By the time he got outside, the sweater he was wearing had caught on fire. When he went back in the second time, he placed his arms beneath Edward’s back and knees, lifted him over the rails and got to the floor with him. From there, he got Edward under the arms and was able to drag him out of the house.

Both Edward and Aletha were taken to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, and even though Edward’s life was spared the night of the fire, the trauma he suffered was just too much. He passed away on November 7th in Nashville. His funeral was held at Hatcher Hall on November 11th, just across the road from the home where together, he and Aletha raised a family of three sons. They have been married for 55 years. Had it not been for both Tim and Liliana, there’s no doubt the outcome of that night would have been much more tragic than it was. Had Liliana not caught sight of the fire, they probably would have driven right on by.

Tim is very humble about the fact that he saved Edward from a horrible death in the house fire, and quickly tells anyone he did what he would hope anyone else who came along would have done. But the fact remains that he and Liliana were there at the right time and the right place. Because of Liliana’s discovery of the fire and Tim’s bravery and determination when they turned around and drove back to the Gunnels home, they both will always have a very special place in the hearts of not only the Gunnels family, but the neighbors, friends, and acquaintances who came together to share in this tragic loss.

William Penn wrote the following that I think is very fitting ending for this story: "I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again."