Monday, July 30, 2018

The Two Problematic Phone Calls

This post considers the problem of both an alleged phone call and the 911 call in the investigation into the suspicious truck fire that claimed my brother Mark’s life.  It follows on the previous post (June 30, 2018), which raised concerns about the 911 call made by my brother’s wife Susan and also questioned the lack of any reference to a 911 call in the police report on Salamanca pharmacist Dale Tarapacki’s death in a similarly suspicious truck fire.

After assessing the police report, the fire investigator’s report, the autopsy report, and information gathered by me from individuals who were on the scene of Mark’s truck fire, attorney Michael Kelly thought it looked like a murder to him and wanted to get the investigation re-opened. He asked the N.Y. State Police investigators to review some of the evidence, including the 911 call, and to obtain the records for an alleged phone call between my brother’s wife and an acquaintance of Mark’s immediately prior to the truck fire.  As previously indicated (see posts of September 22, 2011, and June 30, 2018), senior investigator John Wolfe initially agreed but then changed his mind and refused to review the 911 call.  He also refused to check the records of the phone call Mark’s wife Susan and Pete Rapacioli claimed to have made for nearly half an hour just before my brother’s truck burst into flames in the field across from their house about 11 p.m. (on that call, see posts of December 27, 2012; May 15, 2013, April 19 and July 1, 2014; and October 25, 2016).

It is very unfortunate that the records for that alleged telephone call were not obtained and a review of the 911 call was not done, especially since further inconsistencies between the police report and other information relayed to me have come to light.  Pete Rapacioli telephoned me unexpectedly to complain that I had mentioned him in a post on the alleged phone call (see posts of May 15 and June 26, 2013).  According to Rapacioli, while he was on the phone with Susan, she told him that she “saw an orange glow in the distance” and was going to call 911.  Rapacioli insisted that he had not found out about Mark until the next day.  Here is what Susan, who mentions that she was on the phone at that time, says in her witness statement in the police report: “I saw fire out the front window of our house and after taking a closer look, I could see Mark’s truck across the street from our driveway on fire. I immediately called 911 and then I went out to the fire.  I saw Mark crawling away from the truck and I tried to put the flames on him out. I asked him what did you do [sic] and he said, ‘I did nothing.’”

Rather than referring to “an orange glow in the distance,” Susan clearly states that she saw a fire from the front window and quite quickly knew it was Mark’s truck across the street just before she called 911.  At any rate, one would presumably not rush to call 911 at the sight of a distant orange glow. Earlier posts have dealt with problems underlying Susan’s claim to have tried to dash the flames out on Mark (see September 22, 2010, and September 22, 2012) and with the issue of Mark’s ability to speak in the catastrophic condition of third-degree burns over virtually all of his body (see November 30, 2011). 

Furthermore, as mentioned in the immediately preceding post, an individual who heard the 911 tape not long after Mark’s truck fire referred to being troubled by the level of concern for Mark expressed by Susan in that 911 call.  According to my source, Susan also took quite a while in that same call before getting to the point about the truck fire.  Thus, there are important discrepancies between the account of my source and Susan’s account with respect to her interest in helping Mark and the time frame of her 911 call.  When specifically did she know that Mark had been so seriously burned?  Was it before or after she made the 911 call?

The failure of the N.Y. State Police investigators (a) to verify the existence and timing of the alleged phone call and its content and (b) to re-examine the 911 call seems to have been part of a pattern aimed at not finding out the truth about how my brother came to be burned to death.  Let us not forget that the investigators ignored the pool of Mark’s blood discovered that night right in the area where he normally parked his truck and discounted the wound on Mark’s forehead observed by his attending physician at the burn unit and by firefighter Wayne Frank when it was brought to their attention (see posts of September 22, 2010; May 29 and September 22, 2012).

Let us not forget that the investigators did nothing to determine (or rule out) a potential involvement in Mark’s death by Salamanca police officer Mark Marowski, who got into a personal argument with my brother the very day before the truck fire and then called in to have him arrested for DWI (see esp. posts of September 14 and October 17, 2014).  Let us also recall that, according to an anonymous letter sent to my home, my brother’s wife and Ofc. Marowski were having an affair (see post of August 11, 2014).  Is it merely coincidental that Pete Rapacioli’s son-in-law is the brother of a veteran Salamanca police officer (see post of December 24, 2013)?  Or was “the blue wall of silence” in full force?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Problem of the 911 Calls in the Two Suspicious Truck Fires

This post considers the problem of the 911 calls in the investigation into the suspicious truck fires that claimed the lives of my brother Mark and the young pharmacist Dale Tarapacki.  The problems encountered in requesting the New York State police investigators to review the 911 call made by my brother’s wife Susan and in attempting to obtain a transcript and an audio of that 911 call were discussed in previous posts (September 22 and October 27, 2011), but the importance of that call needs clarification.

In the case of Dale Tarapacki, the existence of a 911 call is itself an issue.  Tarapacki was found burned beyond recognition in his truck, which was still on fire, at the remote end of Hardscrabble Road in rural Great Valley, N. Y.  The fire investigator’s report records that the alarm time was 2:45 p.m. and that a request for the Cattaraugus County fire investigation team (Cattfit) was made at 3:12 p.m. on April 11, 2005.  According to the report by the Sheriff’s office, “On 04/11/05, Detective Baker was requested to respond to the scene of a vehicle fire located at the top of Hardscrable [sic] Road in the Town of Great Valley.  Shortly after the initial request, Detective Baker was notified that there was a badly burned body inside of the vehicle.”   Another section of the police report states, “April 11th 2005 Sgt. Bryant was called and requested to respond to the scene of truck fire located at the end of Hardscrabble Road in the town of Great Valley. Cattfit was on the scene and an unidentified body was inside the vehicle.”  The time of arrival by Dets. Baker and Bryant is not recorded in the police report.

Surprisingly, neither the fire investigator’s report nor the police report indicates who initially discovered the truck fire and notified authorities about it.  This is essential public information that should have been in the report.  One would assume that someone made a 911 call, which brought Cattaraugus County firefighters and members of the Sheriff’s office to the scene.  That information is presumably important to have on record as a case develops, especially in instances with strange or suspicious circumstances.  On the one hand, a 911 caller may have more information than was stated in the call, and on the other, there are certainly documented cases in which the 911 caller himself or herself is responsible for the situation at hand.

The odd, remote location of Tarapacki’s truck, the extensive mechanical damage to the truck not connected to the fire, the severely burned state of Tarapacki’s body, the bullet wound to his right thigh, and the report of a head wound are part of a cluster of suspicious circumstances (see esp. posts of July 23 and August 24, 2016; February 26, April 30, June 13, November 30, and December 31, 2017; and February 28, 2018).  Although Tarapacki’s death was ruled an accident, too many facts suggest otherwise.  As mentioned previously, in a comment sent to this blog (on July 20, 2014, to the post of September 23, 2013), Tarapacki’s mother states that she is “convinced his death was murder.”  More recently, another member of Tarapacki’s family, who contacted me privately, affirmed that his family believes that he was murdered.  Thus, it seems especially relevant in Tarapacki’s case for the Sheriff’s investigators to have recorded the identity of the person who discovered the fire and made the 911 call and to have indicated if that person was interviewed.

The circumstances of my brother’s truck fire have quite a lot in common with Tarapacki’s (see esp. post of July 23, 2016), but in Mark’s case the police report makes it clear that his wife made the 911 call.  However, as the State Police investigators acknowledged, the marriage was in serious trouble (see, for instance, post of May 26, 2014), and a divorce was said to be imminent.  In addition, some of Susan’s statements about events the night of the fire, as recorded in the police report, do not seem to conform to what is known about the timeline of events and conflict with comments she was reported to have made orally (see esp. post of September 22, 2012).  Therefore, since the primary investigator in Mark’s case, Edward Kalfas, claimed that he could not remember Susan’s 911 call, in September 2005 Atty. Michael Kelly tried to persuade N.Y. State Police senior investigator John Wolfe to review the 911 recording.  Although Wolfe initially said that he would do that, he later changed his mind and refused to review the 911 call (see post of September 22, 2011).

After making a FOIL request to the N.Y. State Police to obtain a transcript and an audio of the 911 call, I was informed that they had not been able to locate the requested materials (see post of September 22, 2011).  After being informed that the Sheriff’s office preserves 911 calls, I made a FOIL request to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s office, but was told that because it was not their case, they had not kept it and that 911 calls prior to 2010 “not previously recovered” were no longer preserved (see post of October 27, 2011).

Why would the State Police refuse to comply with Atty. Kelly’s request to review the 911 call, something that would have required little effort on their part?  Is it really plausible that the 911 recording was missing?  If the responses by the State Police and the Sheriff’s office seemed problematic at the time, they were even more so after someone who had heard the 911 recording expressed concern about it to me.  This issue was alluded to in a previous post (see July 1, 2014).  But, more specifically, my source was troubled by the level of concern for Mark expressed by Susan in her 911 call.  Shouldn’t that have been a matter for Inv. Kalfas to look into when he was investigating Mark’s death?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Second Follow-up on a Comment to the Blog on the Dale Tarapacki Case

This post follows up on more of the information included in an anonymous comment sent in to this blog on April 10, 2018, for the post “The Importance of the Phone Records” (October 25, 2016).  The previous post (April 30, 2018) discussed the issue of fishing poles that the anonymous commenter says were observed in the back seat area of Tarapacki’s truck.  This post takes up a reference by the anonymous commenter to Tarapacki breaking up with an unnamed girlfriend the night before his truck fire.

I again quote the comment verbatim:

“I talked to dale "pharmy" just before he went fishing that morning. Dale and his friend "joe" had returned sun on from a camping trip over the weekend in the Cuba Hinsdale area camping stuff fishing poles and 2 22 rifles were in the rear seat area p.s look into who he broke up with the nite before the "accident" I'm scared 2.”

The police report refers to information solicited from a female involved with Tarapacki around the time of his death, but is unclear about any apparent breakup.  The police report indicates that on the day of the truck fire (4/11/04, a mistake for 4/11/05) Detective Welling interviewed Christy Bowles, mother of Brook [sic] Bowles, who stated that Brook had left by bus at 11 a.m. that day to travel to Cleveland for a job at a magazine company.  The police report goes on as follows: “Mrs. Bowles believes that Brook had broken up with Dale Tarapacki two weeks earlier.”

The next day (4/11/05) Detective Welling reports his phone conversation with Brook Bowles.  Making no reference to any breakup, Miss Bowles informed the detective that “she had been with Dale at his home until 4:00 a.m. on the morning of the 11th.”  The report then summarizes Miss Bowles’ views about Tarapacki’s mental state that night, as follows: “Dale seemed depressed and Brook believed that the depression came from her leaving the area.”

Detective Welling presumably sought Miss Bowles’ opinion on the basis of an immediately prior entry in the police report stating that during the search of Tarapacki’s house the day of the fire, “Sheriff John found a note apparently hand written by Dale Tarapacki which made mention that Tarapacki would be in a mind state of hurting himself.”  According to the report, Miss Bowles added the following: “Although something else seemed to be bother[ing] Dale but Brook did not know what that was.”  The record on Miss Bowles’ final comments indicates a more positive outlook on Tarapacki’s part and an apparent continuation of their relationship: “Brook had no idea that Dale would hurt himself and as she left, Dale told her that he would see her soon.”

The police report thus sheds no light on the anonymous commenter’s statement that Tarapacki had broken up with someone the night before his truck fire.  A troubling issue with this section of the police report, moreover, concerns the very ambiguous statement “Sheriff John found a note apparently hand written by Dale Tarapacki which made mention that Tarapacki would be in a mind state of hurting himself” (emphases mine).

What precisely does that mean?  What was actually written in this note?  Was the handwriting ever tested and demonstrated to be Tarapacki's?  The assumption by the police reportedly was that Tarapacki committed suicide (see posts of October 15, 2016, and October 31, 2017).  But the evidence militates against that view (see esp. posts of March 19 and July 23, 2016), and his death was ruled an “accident.”

Monday, April 30, 2018

A Follow-up on a Comment to the Blog on the Dale Tarapacki Case

This post follows up on some of the information included in an anonymous comment recently sent in to this blog on April 10, 2018, specifically for the post “The Importance of the Phone Records” (October 25, 2016).  I quote that comment verbatim:

“I talked to dale "pharmy" just before he went fishing that morning. Dale and his friend "joe" had returned sun on from a camping trip over the weekend in the Cuba Hinsdale area camping stuff fishing poles and 2 22 rifles were in the rear seat area p.s look into who he broke up with the nite before the "accident" I'm scared 2.”

The author of this comment does not clarify at what specific time he or she spoke with Tarapacki the morning of his truck fire and whether Tarapacki actually mentioned going fishing or if the anonymous commenter drew that inference from the fishing poles observed in the rear seat area.  In addition, since the anonymous commenter refers to “poles,” one can assume that there must have been at least two fishing poles in the truck.

Although my FOIL request for the police report on Dale Tarapacki’s case was denied by the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s office (see post of March 19, 2016), an individual who had obtained the police report sent it to me.  In light of this recent anonymous comment, it is strange that there is no reference to any burned remains of these fishing poles in the police report or in the fire investigator’s report (which I did receive after appealing the denial of my FOIL request for all the relevant records on Tarapacki’s death).  One would certainly assume that the metal reels (or metal parts of the reels) would not have totally disintegrated in the truck fire.  In fact, the police report refers to the remains of two 22-caliber rifles in the back seat area of the truck (presumably the same rifles mentioned in the anonymous comment) and a number of 22-caliber shells.  So what happened to the fishing poles?

There is, however, a reference in the police report to one fishing pole.  As recorded in a supplemental report by Deputies Rozler and Dry, dated April 11, 2005 (the day of the truck fire), Tarapacki’s neighbor Steve Kennison told investigators that he saw Tarapacki at about 10 a.m. that day.  The report goes on to state, “Mr. Tarapacki appeared to be going fishing as he left the residence with a fishing pole.”  The report also refers to two other neighbors who were interviewed, Eladina Grey and Sue Grey.  According to the report, these two neighbors saw Tarapacki at about 11:45 a.m. that day and at no time after that.  No mention is made of Tarapacki carrying any fishing poles back into his house.  The fishing poles, then, would still have been in the truck.

Would Tarapacki have left for a fishing trip around 10 a.m. and returned by 11:45?  The police report expresses no concern about that time frame, but it doesn’t seem likely.  It would be useful to know if Tarapacki actually told the anonymous commenter that he was going fishing that morning or if that was speculation on his/her part.

According to a reliable source, although Tarapacki was in no shape to go fishing that morning, police drew attention to a fishing trip in the events leading up to his death.  But it is safe to say that no fishing expedition led Tarapacki to the top of Hardscrabble Road, where, according to the fire investigator’s report, at 2:45 p.m. that day members of the Cattaraugus County fire investigation team were summoned to the scene of his burned-out truck.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Information from Mark’s Attending Physician

This post discusses observations about my brother’s condition made by his attending physician at the Erie County Medical Center, where Mark was airlifted late on the night of September 23, 2003, following his suspicious truck fire.

Dr. Edward Piotrowski, who administered to Mark at the burn unit, spoke with me several times by telephone in 2005.  He acknowledged that he had been very concerned about Mark's condition, emphasizing that he had never seen anyone come in so badly burned, with third-degree and even some fourth-degree burns over about 90% of his body.

In addition to the severity of the burns, Dr. Piotrowski wondered how Mark had got gasoline on his head.  He was also concerned about the badly burned state of Mark's hands, including his palms, which indicated to him that he had tried to put the flames out and had thus not been attempting to commit suicide.

Beyond the burns, Dr. Piotrowski expressed concern over soft-tissue swelling on my brother’s forehead, "not in the skin sense, but in a deeper sense," which made him think that Mark might have been hit over the head.  He also challenged the very high serum alcohol level recorded in the autopsy report, noting that no blood alcohol test had been performed while Mark was in the burn unit and that only his corpse could have been used for the test. [On the blood alcohol issue, see posts of September 11 and 23 and October 29, 2013, and August 24, 2016.]

Before my conversations with him, Dr. Piotrowski had not known anything about the pool of Mark’s blood found on his driveway the night of the fire.  He asked if Mark had suffered from a sinus condition, and I informed him that I had never been aware of my brother having sinus problems.  Dr. Piotrowski stated the only other explanation for the mucus would have been a blow to his nose, which he added could easily have caused the pool of blood found in the driveway.  He also revealed that, as a further indication that Mark had likely been attacked, there was additional soft-tissue damage on the left side of his face. [On the head wounds, see posts of September 22, 2010, and September 24, 2016.]

Dr. Piotrowski suggested a possible scenario for an attack and murder: first, being punched in the nose, causing the pool of blood in the driveway; next, receiving a blow to the head and further trauma to the face; then, being dragged into the truck, which was backed down the driveway and into the field; finally, gasoline being poured over him and the truck set on fire.

According to my nephew John McKenna, who was at the burn unit in the morning of September 24, shortly before Mark died, Dr. Piotrowski stated that Mark had been doused with a flammable liquid and that it was no accident.

Although very concerned about so many troubling aspects of Mark’s condition, Dr. Piotrowski explained that since no one from the investigation ever questioned him, he assumed that the authorities had an explanation for the events.  But it is difficult to understand why the doctor would not talk with Atty. Michael Kelly, who tried to have a conversation with him in the fall of 2005. According to a N.Y. State Police official, when Sen. Inv. John Wolfe finally reached him by telephone, Dr. Piotrowski claimed that he did not remember the case.  Yet the doctor had told me that he could not forget Mark’s case, involving such severe burns.  Although he stated to me that he would contact an F.B.I. official about his concerns over Mark’s death, to the best of my knowledge he never did.

Does a doctor not have both a legal and an ethical responsibility to report his information and his concerns to the proper authorities in such a case?

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Brought the Two Victims to the Place of Their Truck Fires?

A recent post (December 31, 2017) raised the question of the identity of the last person to see both my brother Mark and Dale Tarapacki before their respective truck fires.  This post takes up a related issue: why were my brother and Tarapacki at the particular place where their trucks so suspiciously went up in flames?

My brother’s truck was observed burning in the field across from his house about 11 p.m.  The pool of his blood found in his parking area just off the middle of his driveway, along with wounds observed on his head (see post of September 24, 2016), strongly suggests that the trouble began right there shortly after he pulled up with his truck not long before 11.

As recorded in the New York State Police report, however, the chronology of events that evening is perplexing.  As the post of December 2017 indicates, Mark’s wife Susan says in her witness statement that he was home during the day and left for downtown Salamanca about 8:45.  Yet it is difficult to understand why no one apparently saw him at any of his usual hangouts in Salamanca that evening or why several people either failed to hear from my brother by phone, as expected, or attempted unsuccessfully to reach him earlier in the day (see post of August 22, 2012).  It is also unclear if Mark was about to go into his house after parking his truck, given statements by an eyewitness about Susan’s reaction to his DWI the previous afternoon, including telling him to “pack [his] bags and get the hell out” (see posts of August 22, 2012, and March 3, 2014).

An anonymous letter sent to me states that right before the fire my brother was at the house of a neighbor, who indicated that Mark could not possibly have had the kind of high blood alcohol level reported by the authorities (see post of August 11, 2014).  As indicated in previous posts, the identity of that neighbor has not been revealed to me (see August 14, 2015, and December 31, 2017).  Moreover, an important question still remains: why was Mark in the parking area of his driveway at that time?  Did someone call him when he was at the neighbor’s house, or shortly afterwards, to ask to meet Mark at his home?  If so, as he got out of his truck, my brother would certainly have been left vulnerable to an attack by an individual or individuals with malicious intentions.

As mentioned in the post of December 2017, in the case of Dale Tarapacki a reliable source informed me that, according to the Sheriff’s office, he had been going fishing the afternoon of his truck fire.  Another previous post (June 13, 2017), however, explains that Tarapacki was in no shape to go for a fishing trip that day.  As also indicated in that post, it is unclear if the investigating authorities looked into the credibility of the claim about a fishing trip and the reliability of the witness who made it.  Moreover, the location of the truck fire itself works against the likelihood of a fishing expedition.  The upper section of Hardscrabble Road where Tarapacki’s truck was found, which is unpaved, does not lead to any fishing areas, has no intersecting roads to turn onto, and soon dead-ends.  Those facts make it very unclear what Tarapacki would have been doing on upper Hardscrabble Road the afternoon of his truck fire.  Had he received a call from someone asking him to meet there?  If so, he was left in a very precarious position indeed on that isolated stretch of road.