Village Drive fire victim identified as area collegiate golf coach

Village Drive fire victim identified as area collegiate golf coach
Ernie Denham, 75, was entering his 18th season as the head men's golf at Bellarmine University.
Ernie Denham, 75, was entering his 18th season as the head men's golf at Bellarmine University. (Source: Bellarmine University)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The man who died in a fire in Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood has been identified as longtime collegiate golf coach.

Ernie Denham, 75, was entering his 18th season as the head men's golf at Bellarmine University. A two-time Great Lakes Valley Conference Coach of the Year, Denham guided the Bellarmine men to three appearances in the NCAA Division II National Championship.

Before coming to Bellarmine, Denham was the head coach at the University of Louisville for 18 years. He was also had previously been the executive director of Kentucky Golf Association and Kentucky Section PGA for 11 years.

Investigators have determined the fire started after a candle was dropped onto a comforter in the first floor apartment.
Investigators have determined the fire started after a candle was dropped onto a comforter in the first floor apartment. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“The entire Bellarmine community is shocked and saddened by this tragedy,” said Scott Wiegandt, Bellarmine University Director of Athletics, in a statement posted on the university’s website. “Ernie Denham was a beloved member of the golf community and will be mourned by many people, not only here at Bellarmine, but across the state and nation. We ask for thoughts and prayers in this time of loss.”

“Just like everyone else. We’re just in a state of shock and disbelief and just unbelievable sadness,” John Spugnardi, Bellarmine Assistant Athletic Director, said.

People close to Denham said his coaching went beyond golf.

“I was going down a wrong path,” longtime friend Marty Storch said. "And he said ‘if you’re going to do something in golf, you need to turn your life around. You need to do something. You need to be focused on golf and not other things.’ And he was right.”

One person died in the overnight fire. Several others were injured.
One person died in the overnight fire. Several others were injured. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

The fire was reported at 12:40 a.m. in the 2100 block of Village Drive, near the intersection of Dorothy Ave. Crews arrived within four three minutes to find heavy smoke coming from the three story building.

According to Major Bobby Cooper, a Louisville Fire Department spokesman, the fire started in a first floor apartment and was contained to that one unit. Smoke spread to second and third floors, and common areas of the building, including the stairwell. Cooper said some residents had to jump from second floor windows.

Denham was found on the third floor. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of his death is pending.

Three people were taken to a hospital for treatment of injuries believed to be non-life threatening.

A total of 29 firefighters were on scene and gained control of the fire within 18 minutes.

Investigators with the Louisville Metro Arson Bureau have determined the fire started after a candle was dropped onto a comforter in the first floor apartment.

The building has 12 units. The American Red Cross is helping the displaced residents.

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