NEW CASTLE, Del. (CBS) — Community members in New Castle are rallying after a fiery crash at an animal shelter killed one person and three cats over the weekend.

The victim who drove into the Brandywine Valley SPCA in New Castle overnight Sunday, sparking a fire, has been identified as 36-year-old Latoya Cooper, according to New Castle City police.

On Monday evening, Cooper’s family, alongside community members and workers at the SPCA, gathered for a vigil at the crash site. Many also praised first responders for their quick reaction, which they believed saved many animals.

The fire destroyed the vet clinic and displaced 98 animals inside the shelter. Three cats died in the flames, and another was injured but is expected to survive.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” said Linda Torelli, the Director of Programs for the Brandywine Valley SPCA.

Driver, 3 Cats Dead Following Fiery Crash At Brandywine Valley SPCA 

Volunteers and first responders helped transport the animals to other locations.

But Torelli says some animals, like one dog named Casper, are not adjusting well.

“He will freeze on his paws and drop down on his belly so he doesn’t have to go back into the building and we believe that’s from the trauma of what happened in the building the night of the fire,” Torelli said.

Just one day after the accident, the community is rallying.

“We’ve seen people come forward in ways we never would have thought of,” Torelli said.

“It was kind of heart-wrenching because we see that shelter all the time and we’re big animal lovers,” said Melanie Payne, who lives in Pennsville, New Jersey, and adopted a dog named Riley from the shelter on Sunday.

“He saw us and we saw him. It was love at first sight, and there was no going back,” Payne added. “We were just going to make a donation, and we ended up coming home with a puppy.”

Kyra Sylvester of Coatesville also stopped by the West Chester shelter hoping to bring home a cat.

“I just hate to hear anything about the animals, anything bad, it’s depressing so I figured I’d try to do my part and come and adopt,” Sylvester said.

So far, nearly 60 animals have been adopted from the West Chester shelter on Phoenixville Pike, which now makes space for the dozens of animals displaced in this fire.

The three adoption locations available are the following:


PetSmart® Everyday Adoption Center

1390 N Dupont Hwy,

Dover, DE 19901

Phone: 302-736-5260



Shelter & Animal Health Center

22918 Dupont Boulevard,

Georgetown, DE 19947

Phone: 302-856-6361




1212 Phoenixville Pike,

West Chester, PA 19380

Phone: 484-302-0865

At this time, police are still investigating what caused this crash.

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