Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Authorities Had No Basis for Their Claims of Suicide

    As indicated in the main narrative on the unsatisfactory investigation into the suspicious truck fire and death of my brother Mark in Great Valley, New York, no one that I spoke with ever observed any signs of depression or instability in Mark.  The main narrative below (September 2010) provides the background that I learned related to Mark's death.  This new post comes to reinforce the lack of any basis to the claims made by authorities that my brother in all likelihood committed suicide. 

(1) My brother in fact had a deep connection to people.  That came out clearly as soon as I began to call his friends to ask if they had noticed anything unusual in his behavior.  I've pointed out in the main narrative comments by some of his friends on that issue.  One long-time friend was Gary Subulski, who said that my brother offered help before he was asked.  Gary's wife even made a point of mentioning how much help Mark had given them when Gary was undergoing chemotherapy.

(2) My brother showed by his actions how much he cared about the well-being of his children and would not simply have abandoned them by taking his own life.  Two people I called not long after Mark’s death commented on my brother’s commitment to his children.  His old friend Bill Lewis said that during the summer before his death Mark asked him to speak with his son Brian about the young man’s drinking because Brian wouldn’t listen to him.  His acquaintance Peter Rapacioli said that after his son got a DWI (just days before Mark himself was set up for a DWI by Salamanca Police officer Mark Marowski after an argument at the Holy Cross Athletic Club), my brother went to a lawyer and was hopeful that Brian’s DWI would be reduced to a lesser charge.  Rapacioli insisted that, contrary to what the State Police investigator indicated, Mark was not depressed about his son’s DWI.

(3) My brother showed a sense of commitment to his obligations right up to the evening of the DWI.  Mark's friend Jim Poole told me that, when my brother did not show up at his house on September 22 to help him do some painting, he left a message for Mark to find out if he was planning to come the following day.  Jim said that he, of course, had not known at the time that Mark had been arrested for DWI.  After my brother was brought home by two friends, he was unable to reach Jim but left a message that he would explain later what had happened.  If Mark was suicidal at that time, he wouldn't have bothered to call Jim in order to explain why he hadn't shown up.

    My brother then had to find someone to go with him to retrieve his truck from the impoundment.  I was informed by two different individuals that he went to their houses to ask for help in getting his truck back.  That obviously would have taken some time.  So, it's understandable that my brother did not get back to Jim in the evening after he left the first message.  Jim said that he was surprised not to hear from him the following day because Mark always honored his commitments.  It is also surprising–and troublesome–to me that no one except for his wife seems to have seen Mark the next day prior to the truck fire.  Susan says in her witness statement that Mark was at home and "slightly intoxicated" the afternoon of September 23.  But Jim did not get the second phone call he was expecting, and two other individuals told me they had tried to reach him at home in the morning and afternoon but got no response.  Mark at least would have let Jim know if he wasn't able to help paint that day.  What happened to him?

(4) My brother apparently showed no signs of depression to the one person who acknowledges seeing him on the day of the fire, his wife Susan.  State Police investigator Edward Kalfas acknowledged to Attorney Michael Kelly in 2005 that he had found no one who saw Mark out that day.  All the friends and acquaintances I spoke with said that they had not seen him and, as many observed with concern, did not know of anyone who had seen him the day of the fire.  However, in her witness statement his wife says that she and Mark were watching television around 7:30 p.m. and that he left the house around 8:45 to go to downtown Salamanca.  Susan mentions nothing whatsoever about any despondency on his part over the DWI or anything else.  Mark was presumably not depressed about issues related to his marriage.  As retired N. Y. S. P. Sr. Inv. John Ensell (who was the main investigator's boss) pointed out during my meeting with D. A. Lori Rieman last May, a divorce was approaching.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    An army veteran who had served as a paratrooper in the Vietnam War, Mark Pavlock was fifty-three years old when he was killed.  He grew up with the values of a strong Polish Catholic heritage in the small western New York town of Salamanca and stayed in the area.  Married for more than twenty-five years, he had two children in their early twenties, both in school.  He loved his son and daughter and was proud of their accomplishments.  In particular, he was very happy that his son was valedictorian of his graduating class at Salamanca High School and that he won considerable success as a high school golfer.  More than one of his friends commented that they did not know anyone who did so much for their children as Mark had.  One of his neighbors recalled frequently seeing Mark out helping his son practice golf shots and going off with their dog to collect the balls. 

    Although on disability as a result of an eye injury received while employed by a railroad company, Mark was in excellent health and at the time held a job as a security guard.  He gave much of his spare time to charitable work for the community: shortly before his death, he finished another season of coaching Little League baseball and the very week of the truck fire was actively involved in running a football pool for scholarships for high school students.  Friends emphasized how loyal and helpful Mark was.  One recalled that when she casually mentioned running out of wood, Mark immediately brought over a load of his own wood.  Another put it this way: "Any time I needed help, Mark was right there."

    The picture included here shows what this very decent man, who was my brother, looked like.  Even though the photo is dated, Mark kept his good looks.  But around 11 p.m. on September 23, 2003, he was ravaged by fire.  His pick-up truck burst into flames in a field across from his house in rural Great Valley, New York.  When emergency workers arrived, Mark was found lying in the field, completely engulfed in flames.  He died the following day as a result of third-degree burns over about ninety percent of his body.  Although the circumstances of Mark's truck fire were suspicious, the New York State Police and the Cattaraugus County District Attorney officially called his death an accident but claimed that my brother had in all likelihood committed suicide.  The facts themselves, however, do not add up to either an accident or a suicide.

    This blog is about the failure of the New York State Police to conduct a proper and thorough investigation into my brother's death and the failure of the Cattaraugus County District Attorney to hold them to an appropriate professional standard of investigation.  The narrative below reveals a good deal of the disturbing information that was relayed to me over the course of time.  I tried to make sense of the bizarre circumstances of the suspicious truck fire that took my brother's life and the unfounded claims by the State Police and the District Attorney that Mark had probably committed suicide.  At the same time, the narrative shows that individuals with relevant information failed to come forward and reveal publicly what they knew about the circumstances of my brother's death.  State and local officials in general failed to show any interest in my requests for help on this issue.  Their refusal to help adds to the problem of how difficult it is to get justice in rural New York State. 



    Emergency workers appeared on the scene about 11 p.m., within a few minutes after Mark’s wife Susan called 911 to report that his truck was on fire across the road from their house.  In her witness statement, Susan explains that she was on the telephone from around 10:30, waiting for Mark, who had left around 8:45 for downtown Salamanca, to return home.  At about 10:55, she continues, she heard a noise in the garage, which she thought was from the cats; soon after, she looked out the living room window and saw Mark's truck in flames.  Susan then states that in going out to the scene of the fire, she saw Mark crawling away from the truck and tried to put out the flames on him.  She adds that she asked him, "What did you do?" and that he replied, "I did nothing." 

    The first emergency worker on the scene, neighbor Cheryl Simcox, told me that after hearing an explosion from her bedroom and being toned in to respond to the fire, she rushed to the scene within about two minutes and noticed fifty-foot flames shooting from the truck.  She saw Mark lying on the ground fifty to sixty feet from the passenger's side of the truck, with flames about two feet high shooting from his entire body.  She could not understand how my brother had got where they found him.  It seemed very strange, Cheryl said, that Mark was lying in the field opposite the passenger's side of the truck, the door of which was closed, and not opposite the driver's side, the door of which was open.  She was certain that, if the truck had caught on fire while Mark was in the driver's seat, he would not have run around the truck but rather directly away from it.  Cheryl was also concerned about the position of the truck facing Mark's house, as if it had been backed down the driveway.

    As reported in her witness statement, Cheryl found Susan standing at the end of the driveway.  Susan then said to her, "Come on, we have to go put him out, that's him on fire in the field."  Cheryl then used her fire radio to have an ambulance dispatched.  Cheryl states that although Susan tugged on her and said, "Come on, let's go," she thought it too dangerous to approach Mark.  Susan, she adds, kept saying that she had gone over to Mark and asked him, "What did you do?  My God, what did you do?" and that he had responded, "I did nothing."  In addition, Susan told her that she had used the white sweatshirt she was holding to try and bat the flames out on Mark, but Cheryl noticed that, although it had a faint odor of smoke, the shirt was clean, with no soot or skin on it.

    Firefighter Gary Wind in his witness statement says that he believes he "was the first on location."  He states that, in addition to the truck "fully involved with fire to the cab area," he saw "two small spots approximately twenty yards west of the vehicle."  Although not specifying what the first one was, he identifies the "second object on fire" as my brother Mark lying "on his back almost all of his clothing burned off."  Wind comments on my brother's efforts to speak, as follows: "He was talking to me and said something about gas.  I couldn't make out what he was saying."

    Firefighter Mark Ward, who was the superintendent of the Salamanca school system where he knew Mark's wife from her job, arrived immediately after Gary Wind.  According to his witness statement, he observed that the fire was concentrated in the area of the cab.  He says that Mark was about thirty feet (not around sixty, as Gary Wind and Cheryl Simcox noted) from the truck.  Although he thought my brother was dead, he says that Gary Wind (the name is redacted, that is, blacked out) noticed Mark breathing.  He adds that he "grabbed coats" from his car and "extinguished the rest of the fire."  Ward also states that Mark "was able to talk," but he could understand only the words "gasoline can," which he says my brother uttered twice.  Like Cheryl Simcox, Ward says that Mark's wife Susan was holding a white sweatshirt "that she said she had used to try to put Mark out."  Ward, however, says nothing about the condition of the sweatshirt. 

    As he informed me, firefighter Wayne Frank arrived on the scene immediately after Wind and Ward.  He told me that Mark was some distance from the truck, around forty-five feet or so.  Along with Wind and Ward, Frank put out the flames on Mark.  He also said that my brother had tried to talk to them.  However, he insisted that they had not been able to understand anything Mark was trying to say.

    A gasoline can was in fact found in my brother's truck.  The police report lists among five items of evidence "melted remains of a red plastic gas can."  The fire investigator's report is more specific: the gas can was found in the cab of Mark's truck on the floor of the passenger's side.  In her witness statement (completed  at 11:45 on the night of the fire), Mark's wife Susan also refers to a gasoline can, as follows: "After the fire I realized that Mark had taken a plastic 5 gal. can of gas out of the garage but I don't know what he did with it."

    The damage to the truck was heaviest in the driver's seat area of the cab.  According to the fire investigator’s report, the fire started in the driver's seat area and spread through the fire wall, with "heavy damage" to the engine compartment as well as the driver’s seat area.  The report mentions that an "accelerant" was used and that there was "preparation."  It lists textiles, plastic, and gasoline as materials ignited and a match or lighter as the source of ignition.  A lighter was found on the passenger's side floor.

    Although most of Mark's clothing was burned off, some of what remained was removed for investigation.  The police report mentions that "portions of burnt clothing from the victim" were sent to the Western Regional Crime Lab and that those items "tested positive for gasoline."  

    Firefighter Wayne Frank, who helped put the flames out on Mark, observed trauma to my brother's head.  He stated in an interview with Buffalo Attorney Michael Kelly that he had seen a wound on Mark's forehead which looked as if he had been hit by a nine-iron. 

    Although not made public until around early March 2004, a pool of blood was found on the scene the night of the truck fire.  It was located where Mark normally parked his truck, in a paved area at right angles to his long driveway and around half way up.  It was a significant amount of blood, as indicated by police photos taken the night of the fire and later viewed by Attorney Michael Kelly.  No "rush" order was placed when it was sent to a lab.  In late February 2004, test results proved conclusively that it was Mark's blood.


    After being given I.V.'s, my brother was placed in an ambulance and airlifted to the Erie County Medical Center.  According to the police report, Mark "was unable to communicate at any time" during the airlift to the burn unit.  According to my nephew John McKenna who lived in the area, Mark's attending physician at E.C.M.C., Dr. Edward Piotrowski, told him shortly before my brother died that he had been saturated with a flammable liquid.  As my nephew reported, the doctor then added that either Mark had done that to himself or someone else had done it to him.  Dr. Piotrowski later told me that he did not understand how my brother had got gasoline on his head as well as the rest of his body.

    When Mark arrived at the burn unit, Dr. Piotrowski, as he later informed me, noticed trauma to my brother's head.  There was soft-tissue swelling on his forehead, the doctor explained, which made him think that Mark might have been hit over the head.  He ordered a CT scan because he thought there might be bleeding in my brother's brain.  The scan, the doctor said, was negative for bleeding but revealed deep soft-tissue swelling in Mark's forehead.  Dr. Piotrowski added that there was further soft-tissue damage to the left side of my brother's face.  He also mentioned mucosal congestion found in Mark's sinus areas.  Since my brother had not suffered from a sinusitis condition, the doctor stated that the only explanation for the congestion was a blow to the nose.

    Mark died at E.C.M.C. early in the afternoon on September 24, about fourteen hours after the fire.  Dr. Piotrowski said that Mark had burns down to the muscle level, a condition which produces a substance that shuts the kidneys down.  He explained that in the end my brother's heart could not respond to the burden of having to pump so much extra fluid around and he thus suffered cardiovascular collapse.

    An autopsy was performed the day after Mark's death by Erie County Medical Examiner Sung-ook Baik, with New York State troopers present.  The report, which came out in November 2003, describes the degree of burns as follows: "The body shows approximately 85-90% of first to fourth degree skin burn.  Some normal skin is recognizable in the back of the upper arm, buttocks, right forearm, and both feet....The entire face and head shows first to third degree of skin burn."  Although much of the medical information is too technical for a lay person to grasp, my brother’s height is recorded as sixty-seven and a half inches, but he was actually seventy-one and a half inches (i.e., five feet eleven and a half inches tall).  The report mentions nothing about the wound on Mark's forehead observed both by firefighter Wayne Frank and by Dr. Piotrowski and verified by the CT scan mentioned above.

    The Medical Examiner states his opinion on the cause of death as follows: "This 53-year old Caucasian male Mark Pavlock died of Flash Fire Burn and Thermal Injuries.  The manner of death was classified as accident.  He had been drinking alcoholic beverages prior to death."  The toxicology report records a blood alcohol level of .25, obtained through a "headspace" test.  The blood alcohol reading for the autopsy was obtained by using Mark's corpse. 

    When I mentioned this high blood alcohol level to Dr. Piotrowski, he insisted that Mark's blood alcohol could not have been that high.  He explained that, even if Mark had been drinking the evening of the fire, his blood alcohol level should have been zero--or only slightly above--because of all the fluids pumped into him during his treatment at the burn unit.  Attorney Michael Kelly later questioned Dr. Baik about this high blood alcohol reading.  The Medical Examiner, Kelly said, agreed that it was too high but explained that it was what the lab people had given him.  Apparently, Dr. Baik did not seek any information about Mark's condition or treatment from Dr. Piotrowski at the Erie County Medical Center.

                                    THE INVESTIGATION INTO MARK'S DEATH

    In the police report, David Chandler, the New York State Trooper who responded to the fire, states on September 24, 2003, "Motive and cause of the fire still under investigation."  On the same date, New York State Police Investigator Edward Kalfas states that the Supporting Deposition of neither Mark's wife nor the first responding fireman provides "definitive information" about the cause of the fire.  Inv. Kalfas's narrative for September 24 also notes that among the five items of evidence taken from the scene, two (the gas can and the portions of burnt clothing) were sent to the Western Regional Crime Lab and another (two swabs of blood from Mark’s driveway) was sent to the N. Y. S. P. Crime Lab in Albany.  On the same date, he reports that he met with members of the Cattaraugus County Fire Investigation Team, which concluded that "the fire was caused as a result of human element and not natural causes or an act of God."  Despite the blood evidence and the general uncertainty about the specific cause of the truck fire, the New York State Police Investigator and District Attorney Sharkey made no effort to preserve my brother's body for further examination.  His body was released after the autopsy, and his wife had Mark cremated.

    In his entry in the police report for September 25, Inv. Kalfas mentions interviewing some of Mark's acquaintances.  Although the names of all these individuals are redacted from the police report that I obtained, the first person mentioned is a man (known to be Peter Rapacioli) who was also involved in the charity football pool with my brother.  According to the report, Rapacioli said that he had called to speak with Mark but (as he was apparently not at home) talked with Susan until "she advised him of seeing the fire and hung up to call 911."  The report goes on to say that Rapacioli "had no idea how something like this could happen" and that he described Mark as a "heavy drinker and chain smoker." 

    Inv. Kalfas also indicates that he spoke that day with some members of the Holy Cross Athletic Club.  A small redacted section appears to contain the names of two individuals, who claimed that my brother had been in the day before the fire and had been "acting 'strange' and 'not like himself.'"  There is no explanation of what is meant by these characterizations of Mark's behavior on September 22.  As will be discussed later, Inv. Kalfas does not mention the argument between my brother and an off-duty Salamanca policeman at the Holy Cross Athletic Club on the day before the truck fire.  Inv. Kalfas then states that he interviewed "numerous Holy Cross Athletic Club members who were all in agreement that the victim had been behaving unusually and was very upset about getting arrested for DWI the day before the fire."  Inv. Kalfas, however, acknowledged to Attorney Michael Kelly in 2005 that he had not found anyone who had seen Mark out on September 23, the day of the fire.  It is difficult to understand, then, how these club members could have told him about my brother's reaction to his DWI the day before.

     Finally, in his entry for September 25, Inv. Kalfas mentions re-interviewing Mark's wife and interviewing what appear to be two or perhaps three other individuals whose names are redacted from the report.  The only thing he says about these interviews is the following: "No new information was developed." 

    Inv. Kalfas's next entry is for September 29, in which he states that he "interviewed the victim's sister, Barbara Pavlock [name not redacted]."  He summarizes information I provided as follows: "Barbara Pavlock states she has heard rumors from around town and has an unsubstantiated theory that the fire was not suicide or an accident."  However, my purpose in making contact with the New York State Police was not to repeat "rumors" but to report a telephone conversation in which my brother's daughter claimed to me that Mark had left her a suicide letter.  That conversation will be discussed in detail below.  In the remaining entries for the same day, Inv. Kalfas reports that he interviewed employees at Antone's, where Mark frequently bought gas and cigarettes, and learned that no one there had seen him for a few days prior to the fire.  He also reports that he interviewed employees of M & M's where my brother worked as a security guard, and learned that they had not seen him for a few days [which included his regular days off].

    Inv. Kalfas's entry for September 30 mentions his interview of Mark's and my half-sister Carol McKenna (name redacted).  He states that she "was very upset and advised that she had been contacted by...[brief redaction] Barbara, who was making statements about it possibly not being an accident or suicide."  He adds that Carol "had no relevant information to offer."  Carol stated to me that she had not complained about any conversations I had with her.  Furthermore, she told me that she had informed Inv. Kalfas about her experience at the burn unit the morning of September 24, information that seemed quite relevant to the investigation.

    Inv. Kalfas reports his interview on October 2 with Salamanca Police Officer Darryl L. Wickham [sic for Whitcomb], who arrested Mark for DWI the day before the truck fire.  He fails to state, however, anything about the circumstances of the arrest, which happened immediately after my brother got into an argument with an off-duty Salamanca Police Officer at the Holy Cross Athletic Club.  This issue will be discussed below.  Inv. Kalfas goes on to say that, according to Officer Whitcomb, Mark "was very upset and depressed that the information regarding his arrest would be available to the newspaper."  Wouldn't most people be upset at the prospect of having their name in the paper for DWI? 

    Inv. Kalfas then appears to mention his interview of Jim and Alexis Wright, the friends who picked Mark up and drove him home from the DWI.  His summary is almost entirely redacted, but it is so brief that he obviously did not record much, if anything, about what the Wrights observed when they brought my brother home after his arrest.  Finally, on October 2, he refers briefly to his interview of Mark Ward (name redacted), whose Supporting Deposition he observes is enclosure #6.  (The names of all those who supplied a witness statement were, apparently inadvertently, left unredacted in a list immediately following Inv. Kalfas's narrative in the police report.)

    Inv. Kalfas has entries for three dates in the remainder of October.  On Oct. 10, he mentions his interview of Cheryl Simcox (name redacted), whose Supporting Deposition he notes is enclosure #7.  On Oct. 14 and 25, he refers to contact with Nationwide Insurance, CNA Insurance, and United Transportation Union.  He also reports interviews with several individuals on Oct. 25.  On that date, he re-interviewed Mark's wife Susan, noting that she "repeated the same account she gave the night of the incident and also in her Deposition."  In addition, he reports his interview with my brother's daughter Christie (name redacted), referring in part to my information about Christie's telephone conversation with me.  He summarizes it as follows: "She had no information regarding rumors of a suicide note or pre-planned funeral arrangements."   On the same date, Inv. Kalfas reports his interviews of three of Mark's "friends and neighbors," who he says referred to my brother as "often drinking." 

    The two entries for November reveal that Inv. Kalfas conducted one interview.  On Nov. 4, he received results from the Western Regional Crime Lab, affirming that the remains of the gas can and the burnt clothing tested positive for gasoline.  On Nov. 22, he interviewed an individual (name redacted) described as a "good friend of the victim," who also mentioned Mark's drinking and offered the opinion that "when he got the DWI with his name in the paper, I think it pushed him over the edge."  This individual, however, does not indicate if he saw or spoke to my brother on September 22 after his DWI or on September 23 at any time prior to the truck fire.  All of my brother's friends with whom I spoke (more than ten) told me that they had not seen Mark out the day of the truck fire and did not know of anyone who had seen him.

    There are entries for three dates in December.  On Dec. 10, Inv. Kalfas reports that further examination of Mark’s truck revealed the position of the transmission in "Park."  The truck was then released to a representative of Nationwide Insurance.  On Dec. 12, Inv. Kalfas reports that he re-interviewed Mark's wife, who "answered the same as she did the night of the fire and on the 10/25/03 re-interview."  He adds that Susan "has no explanation for the blood located in the driveway and also stated there was [sic] no notes or letters left by the victim."  On Dec. 30, he reports his meeting with District Attorney Sharkey and the D. A.'s investigator Michael Malick [sic for Malak].  He states that, among other things, they discuss letters that I sent to Inv. Kalfas and to D. A. Sharkey.  The latter asks Inv. Kalfas to interview one other individual (name redacted).  Inv. Kalfas adds that this person was immediately interviewed but "was unable to provide any information."  After informing the District Attorney of the results of this interview, he reports D. A. Sharkey's statement that "despite rumors and innuendo, there is no evidence to support the possibility of homicide or suicide.  The case will be classified as an accident, consistent with the findings of the Medical Examiner's office."

    Two supplemental reports reflect the conclusion of the investigation.  The first has three entries.  On February 24, 2004, Inv. Kalfas received a copy of the DNA analysis of "the blood submitted 01/05/04."  He states: "The Report finds the blood found at the scene is that of the victim, Mark Pavlock."  On March 4, he reports a meeting he had with D. A. Sharkey, his investigator Michael Malak, and N. Y. S. P. Sr. Inv. John Ensell at which the D. A. asked him to interview Medical Examiner Sung-ook Baik "regarding a possible explaination [sic] for the blood found at the scene and a re-interview of the victim’s wife, Susan Pavlock."  On March 11, Kalfas reports his interview of Dr. Baik at the Erie County Medical Center.  He summarizes the results as follows: "After reviewing the photographs [of the autopsy and of the scene] and his own record he stated that during the autopsy he found no, pre-hospital, wounds which would have produced bleeding.  He did suggest that, given the victim's blood alcohol concentration, and the physical effect of alcohol, the victim may have likely suffered from a nosebleed.  Dr. Baik added that alcohol dilates blood vessels and a simple nosebleed could produce excessive bleeding."

    In the second supplemental report, Inv. Kalfas refers to his interview (requested by D. A. Sharkey) of Mark's wife Susan on April 28.  He summarizes it as follows: "Mrs. Pavlock answered all questions in a forthright manner, however no new information was developed."  He then states that, also at  D. A. Sharkey's request, "Mrs. Pavlock was additionally asked if she would submit to a Polygraph Examination.  This request was denied."  This supplemental report concludes as follows: "Case remains open pending further direction of the DA's office."  Judging from the police report, however, the investigation essentially ended at this point.

    In the period following our mother's death in November 2000, I hadn't been to upstate New York much and thus had not seen my brother very many times.  From telephone conversations and letters, he seemed fine.  So, shortly after 7:30 a.m. on September 24, I was stunned to get a telephone call from a total stranger, a friend of Mark's wife named Ann O'Brien,  informing me that my brother had been badly burned.  Early in the afternoon a message was left for me that Mark had died.

The claim of a suicide letter

    After being unable to reach my brother's wife by telephone during the afternoon, I called their house early in the evening.  Their son Brian told me that his mother was in the shower and, after speaking briefly with me, informed me that his sister wanted to talk to me.  Mark's daughter Christie then promptly told me that she knew how her father had died.  Mark, she claimed, had committed suicide, but she was not telling anyone else other than her mother and brother in order to protect the insurance money.  When I expressed my disbelief that my brother would have taken his own life, Christie stated that he had been depressed over the deaths of our father and mother.  I knew for certain that was not true and told her that I didn't believe her.  Christie, an M.A. student in Psychology, insisted that my brother had "low self-esteem" and that such individuals often commit suicide.  She also said that Mark had told her frequently that he no longer wanted to live.  Christie then added that Mark had left her a suicide letter, which began as follows: "By the time you read this, I will be dead."

    As soon as I found out who was conducting the investigation into my brother's death, I called the Olean office of the New York State Police and reported Christie's claim about a suicide.  The following day, I spoke by telephone with Inv. Kalfas and repeated the information to him directly.  I also reported the information by letter to D. A. Sharkey in December 2003.

    When I asked Attorney Michael Kelly to speak with the State Police investigator and his superior John Wolfe in 2005, Inv. Kalfas said that Christie had denied knowing anything about a suicide letter and he had not known what to do about the matter.  I later spoke by phone with Sr. Inv. Wolfe, who stated that he wanted to talk to Christie about the issue but she had not returned his call.  Nothing further appears to have been done.

     When I recently met with the current Cattaraugus County District Attorney, Lori Rieman, to express my concerns about the investigation into my brother's death, she dismissed the importance of Christie's claims to me about a suicide letter.  D. A. Rieman stated that Christie might well have destroyed the suicide letter and therefore the State Police investigator could not have done much about it.  As I indicated, however, Christie's statements about this alleged suicide letter did not at all seem credible.  The question remains: why did Mark's daughter claim that he had left her a suicide letter?

Insurance issues

    Because Mark's daughter linked her claim of a suicide letter to the issue of insurance money and relatives in the area were raising questions about insurance policies, California attorney Tony Tanke, a friend who offered his assistance immediately after Mark's death, contacted the railroad that had employed my brother in order to advise them about the ongoing investigation into Mark's death.  Between September 2004 and February 2005, I made inquiries with my brother's insurers listed in the police report and with another after learning that his disability policy with the railroad had been sold.  An agent for Nationwide, which did its own investigation into the truck fire, informed me that Inv. Kalfas had not told them about the pool of blood found in the driveway and refused to let them see the police report. 

    In discounting the significance of Christie's statement to me about a suicide letter, D. A. Rieman suggested that Mark's daughter might simply have wanted her mother to collect the modest insurance money.  The new District Attorney had also invited John Ensell, Kalfas's immediate superior during the investigation, to the meeting.  Mr. Ensell insisted that the insurance money had in fact been only $17,000.  Because that figure seemed far too low for a number of reasons, I asked him how he knew for certain.  He stated that they had checked the insurance policies through the New York State insurance data bank.  His information, however, was incomplete since I had uncovered a single policy (with a company not listed in the police report) that was said to be worth more than the total claimed by Mr. Ensell.

Mark's state of mind before the truck fire
     Inv. Kalfas told me early in the investigation that my brother had been depressed over three things: the death of his dog a month or so earlier, his son's DWI the previous week, and his own DWI the day before the truck fire.  I immediately started to contact Mark's friends and continued to do so for some time.  Virtually all of his friends, including at least three who had known him since grade school, were adamant that there was no way whatsoever my brother had taken his own life.  Two different friends who saw my brother in the evening after his DWI, Todd Lindell and Alexis Wright, insisted that he had not seemed depressed.  To the contrary, both stated that Mark had been concerned about keeping his driver's license so that he could get to his job as a security guard.  A few friends pointed out that Mark was an experienced hunter who owned several guns and under intolerable circumstances would have used a gun.  As a paratrooper in Vietnam, Mark had seen what happened to soldiers whose helicopters had crashed and burned and recalled those experiences with emotion when he returned.  In his witness statement in the police report, Jim Wright says, "I believe I knew him very well, and well enough to know he didn't have any suicidal tendencies." 

    Numerous individuals mentioned that Mark had told them about things he was looking forward to, such as returning to his favorite sport of golf and throwing a big party for his son when he graduated from college.  A cousin in the area who had frequent contact with Mark assured me that he had definitely not been depressed about putting his dog away.  Neighbor Cheryl Simcox said that she had frequently seen Mark out on his property mowing the lawn, doing yard work, and performing other chores.  She also mentioned Mark's reaction when a mutual acquaintance of theirs committed suicide several months earlier: my brother wished that he had known of the man's intention so that he could have tried to talk him out of it.  With both of our parents gone, Mark let me know if any relatives or friends in the area had died and always expressed deep sadness and disappointment if they had not lived to an advanced age.  He, too, had hoped to live a long life.  

The issue of Mark’s drinking

    I was very surprised to learn that my brother had been doing any drinking, since he had gone off alcohol completely several years before.  In my experience, he was usually drinking a cola or something similar.  When I asked close friends of his about this issue, one said that Mark had started doing some drinking about two years earlier, and another indicated that he was drinking more noticeably about six months before his death.  Others said that Mark did not drink when he worked or when he was involved in activities such as coaching Little League baseball.  A few specified that he drank mainly in the evenings and on his days off.  Several mentioned what they believed was the reason why my brother had begun to drink again.  Expressing skepticism at the view that Mark had caused the truck fire because he was very drunk, more than one person emphasized that my brother could hold his alcohol.  Several insisted that Mark would never have risked getting drunk and driving his truck the day after getting a DWI.  He was not a fool.

The DWI after an argument with an off-duty police officer

    Early in the investigation, Inv. Kalfas told me that my brother had got a DWI after an altercation with an off-duty police officer at a local club.  When I called Mark's friends in late 2003, several people revealed to me that my brother had been set up for his DWI by a Salamanca policeman named Mark Marowski after they got into a personal argument at the Holy Cross Athletic Club.  The two were not strangers: they had known each other since grade school.  The details of the argument are unclear, but reportedly my brother thought that his son should have been treated more leniently when he was stopped for DWI because he had just come home for the funeral of a close friend.  But immediately after my brother left the club, Officer Marowski reportedly called in to the Salamanca police to have my brother arrested on his way home to Great Valley. 

    Because Inv. Kalfas in the police report does not even allude to this argument, he thus does not indicate if he questioned members of the Holy Cross Athletic Club about the altercation between my brother and the off-duty policeman.  It appears that he made no effort to find out if the hostility on Officer Marowski's part ended with that phone call.  The authorities also never checked any phone records, at my brother's house or anywhere else.  Instead, Inv. Kalfas's narrative in the police report makes it seem that my brother did little else but drink.  That is far from the truth.

    It is a bitter irony that in May 2006 Officer Mark Marowski himself was arrested for speeding and DWI.  Numerous individuals said that he should have been picked up many times before.  Although he was suspended from the Salamanca police force, Officer Marowski was allowed to retire with his police pension.

Communicating with Inv. Kalfas and the District Attorney

    During the period of the investigation and over the course of time relevant information I learned about the truck fire was reported to officials.  While the investigation was ongoing, I wrote three letters to Inv. Edward Kalfas and three to D. A. Edward Sharkey.  I received no response to my letters from Inv. Kalfas and only a perfunctory reply from D. A. Sharkey to my first letter to him.  I wrote a fourth letter to D. A. Sharkey in 2008; he did not reply.  On November 4, 2003, I went up to the Olean office of the New York State Police to speak with Inv. Kalfas directly and to see my brother's truck before it was removed from the police compound.  He was obviously not pleased that I had come.  When I started to write some information down a few minutes into the meeting, he abruptly left the interview room and, on returning, refused to continue the interview.  After I saw the condition of Mark's truck, I brought up the subject of Officer Mark Marowski.  Inv. Kalfas denied that he had even mentioned to me my brother's argument with an off-duty police officer and added, "You'd have to have it on tape to prove it.  We're done here.  I'm not talking to you any more.  I have my job to think of."
    During the investigation, Attorney Tony Tanke spoke several times by telephone with the District Attorney's investigator Michael Malak and, when it ended, with D. A. Sharkey himself.  Attorney Tanke found D. A. Sharkey rude and ill-informed about the case.  The District Attorney could not offer any credible scenario for Mark's truck fire yet insisted that the cause of my brother's death was either accident or suicide, and most likely suicide.  D. A. Sharkey's claim of a suicide, however, contradicts his statement on December 30, 2003, as recorded in the police report, that "there is no evidence to support the possibility of homicide or suicide." 

    D. A. Sharkey gave Attorney Tanke two concrete pieces of information about the investigation.  First, he said that the Medical Examiner had explained that a deposit of Mark's blood found in his driveway was caused by a "bump on the nose."  (The police report, however, states that M. E. Baik explained the pool of blood as the likely result of a nosebleed caused by Mark's alleged high blood alcohol.)   Second, he stated that Mark's wife had been asked by the State Police, at his request, to take a polygraph test, but had refused to do so.  D. A. Sharkey added that I was not entitled to any information from his office and would have to obtain the police report through a FOIL request to the New York State Police, even though I am the closest living relative from Mark's birth family.

The information from Mark's attending physician

      To find out if he could clarify something about the drugs administered to my brother during his treatment, I called Dr. Edward Piotrowski, Mark's attending physician at the Erie County Medical Center, in early 2005.  Dr. Piotrowski told me that he had never been interviewed by the police about Mark's death and assumed that they had not needed anything from him.  The doctor then gave me very important information about my brother's condition.  As I've already mentioned, Dr. Piotrowski revealed that there was deep soft-tissue swelling in Mark's forehead, further soft-tissue damage to the left side of his face, and mucosal congestion in his sinus areas that could only be explained by a blow to the nose if he had not suffered from a sinusitis condition.

    Emphasizing that almost all his burns were third degree, Dr. Piotrowski stated that he could not understand how my brother had got so badly burned.  He insisted that even if Mark had caused a flash fire by lighting up a cigarette with an open gas can in the cab of his truck, it should not have soaked him with gasoline.  In addition, the doctor told me that Mark's hands, including his palms, were very badly burned, which made him think that my brother had tried to put out the flames on himself and had not been attempting to commit suicide.  When I told him that there was no mention of wounds in Mark's autopsy report, he explained that the swelling on my brother's face would have gone down by the time of the autopsy and the wound on the forehead might not have been noticeable.

    After a few conversations with him, it was clear that Dr. Piotrowski was nervous about what he had revealed to me.  He told me not to mention his name to anyone in the Salamanca area and expressed concern about getting a $50,000 fine if he violated the HIPAA law.  From the middle of 2005, he no longer returned my calls and would not respond to Attorney Michael Kelly’s request to speak with him.  Although Attorney Kelly urged Sr. Inv. John Wolfe to speak with Dr. Piotrowski, the State Police never interviewed him.  Later in 2005, when I contacted Sr. Inv. Wolfe, he said that he had not been able to interview Dr. Piotrowski because the doctor had not returned his call.  In 2007, I spoke with N. Y. S. P. Lt. Allen, who told me that Capt. George Brown had asked Sr. Inv. Wolfe to track Dr. Piotrowski down in December 2005.  According to Lt. Allen, the doctor said he could not remember the case and could not say anything without having the medical records in front of him.  As Lt. Allen admitted, Dr. Piotrowski did not get back to Sr. Inv. Wolfe, and they did not pursue the matter further. 

The information from firefighter Wayne Frank
    At a high school class reunion in 2005, I happened to speak with classmate Wayne Frank.  When I asked if he had known Mark, he nodded and said that he had been on the scene of my brother's truck fire.  Although at first unwilling to say what he had observed, Wayne gave me some information.  He said that the State Police had made him leave when Mark was taken away by ambulance and that he had not been asked to give a witness statement.  Wayne expressed concern as to why the truck was in the field and how it was parked, facing the road and Mark's driveway with the tires completely straight and aligned.  He indicated that whoever had parked the truck there knew what he was doing.  He added that although the suicide theory was discussed that night, he did not believe it.  After saying a number of things that cannot be disseminated here, Wayne stated that he thought the police should have checked for Mark's nine-iron but did not explain what he meant.

    Not long after this conversation, Attorney Michael Kelly did a follow-up interview with him.  Wayne admitted that he had seen a wound on Mark's forehead.  He also said that he and Gary Wind had been concerned about the way the truck came out from the driveway: tire marks in the grass were in a totally straight line, which did not seem consistent with backing the truck down in haste because of an emergency.  Appearing uncomfortable about the situation, Wayne said to Attorney Kelly, as he had to me, that he would deny in court what he had revealed.

    When Attorney Kelly met with Inv. Kalfas and Sr. Inv. Wolfe in 2005 to discuss problems with the investigation, he brought up the statements made by Wayne Frank as well as by Dr. Piotrowski.  He advised them to interview Wayne as well as Dr. Piotrowski and urged them to re-open the case.  But, by all accounts, they did not interview Wayne.  The State Police remained adamant that Mark's death was either an accident or a suicide and would not re-open the case.
 The telephone records

    In addition to failing to interview individuals with important information, such as Dr. Piotrowski and firefighter Wayne Frank, the authorities did not check any telephone records for the day of Mark's truck fire or the preceding day when he was set up for the DWI.  There are several reasons why those records should have been checked. 

    Given the argument between my brother and Officer Mark Marowski the day before the truck fire, Inv. Kalfas should have been interested to find out if there were any phone calls between the two later that day or on the day of the fire.  In addition, Peter Rapacioli's statement, as noted in the police report, that he had called the house just before the fire, apparently to speak with Mark about the football pool for scholarships, should have been verified.  10:30 p.m. is an odd time to be conducting business.  The claim to me by Mark's daughter Christie that he had left her a suicide letter was apparently not investigated in any serious way.  The truth about Mark's psychological state could have been probed by checking the telephone records for conversations my brother had with various people the week or so before his death.  All of Mark's friends I contacted insisted that they had observed no indication of depression on his part around the time of his death (or at any other point).  Furthermore, since none of Mark's friends apparently either heard from him or saw him on the day of the truck fire (and according to one close friend, Mark had left a voice mail message the evening of his DWI that he would get back to him), the State Police investigator should have been interested to find out if my brother had made or received any calls the day of the truck fire. 

    When he met with Inv. Kalfas and Sr. Inv. Wolfe in 2005 at my request, Attorney Michael Kelly asked them to check the telephone records.  But shortly afterwards, Sr. Inv. Wolfe said they would not do so unless the case were re-opened.  I wrote a letter to Sr. Inv. Wolfe urging him to check those records.  When I spoke to him later by telephone, he reiterated his refusal to check the phone records unless the case were re-opened.


(1) How did Mark's truck end up in the field?

    How and why Mark's truck ended up in that field remains a troubling, unanswered question.  Although the position of the truck facing his house across the road from his driveway might suggest that it had been backed down there because of some emergency, there were no indications that the truck had caught on fire before it was driven into the field.  In addition, Mark's truck had not run out of gas before he could turn into his driveway, as some people initially seemed to think, since the fire investigator's report states that the tank was about three-quarters full.  Here are explanations offered to me by State Police officials when I contacted them in 2006 and 2007: (1) according to Capt. George Brown, Mark drove his truck to the field, most likely to move it away from the property in an effort to commit suicide; (2) according to Lt. Allen, Mark, intoxicated, got confused after falling and hitting his head and then drove the truck into the field.  The first relies on an assumption of suicide that has no basis in fact.  The second explanation makes no sense at all.

(2) Who put the gas can into the cab of the truck?

    The gas can in the cab of Mark's truck is at the heart of the mystery of that fatal night.  From his experiences as a paratrooper in Vietnam, my brother knew very well not to put gasoline cans in the cab of his truck.  He put gas cans only in the back of the truck.  More than one of his friends strongly insisted on this point.  On the evening of the fire, he seems to have had no need for a gas can at all.  Since his tank was nearly full, he clearly had not gone into his garage and retrieved the can to add gasoline to an empty tank.  As the police report observes, no one at the nearby gas station where Mark often filled up his tank had seen him for at least a couple of days.  So he obviously hadn't just taken the can there to refill it.

(3) How did Mark end up saturated with gasoline?

    The police report acknowledges that the portions of Mark's burnt clothing removed on the scene tested positive for gasoline.  As my nephew reported to me, Dr. Piotrowski told him that my brother had been saturated with a flammable liquid.  According to Mark's and my half-sister Carol, Inv. Kalfas told her that Mark had been saturated with gasoline.  As Dr. Piotrowski explained to me, even if Mark had caused a flash fire by lighting up a cigarette with an open gas can in the cab of his truck, it still should not have soaked him with gasoline.
(4) How was Mark's head injured?

     The wound on Mark's forehead observed by both Wayne Frank and Dr. Piotrowski and the soft-tissue damage to the left side of my brother's face observed by the doctor are incompatible with the theory that Mark was drunk and fell down.  Those wounds, furthermore, are difficult to reconcile with the theory of a suicide that both the State Police and the District Attorney said they really believed.  Yet another dubious explanation was offered by the State Police: when asked by Attorney Michael Kelly in late 2005 about the soft-tissue swelling on my brother's forehead, Sr. Inv. John Wolfe referred to it as "positional," suggesting among other things that Mark could have been hit on the head when they put him into the ambulance.  As Dr. Piotrowski emphasized, however, my brother had deep, not superficial, soft-tissue swelling in his forehead.

(5) How did a pool of Mark's blood end up in his driveway?

    The blood is barely mentioned in the police report, even though the amount was significant.  More than one expert whom I consulted rejected Dr. Baik's explanation of alcohol causing a nosebleed.  In addition, my brother had no history of nosebleeds.  Dr. Piotrowski told me that he did not think that the wound to Mark's forehead could have caused the pool of blood.  But he added that a blow to Mark's nose certainly could have. 


    The silence about my brother's death in the Salamanca area has been uncanny.  Not even a brief story about his truck fire appeared in either of the two local papers.  An article in the Olean Times Herald that was "set to run" was abruptly stopped.  Numerous individuals have given me information about the events surrounding my brother's death, much of which cannot be stated here.  But virtually no one has been willing to state publicly what they know about Mark's death.

    A few years ago, I went to speak with an elderly woman still living in the neighborhood where my brother and I grew up.  She mentioned that Mark had kept in touch with her, in part because he used to come over to chat with her husband, a World War II army officer who had been a mentor to my brother and other local soldiers during the Vietnam era.  She was distressed about Mark's death and added that people who knew things about it did not want to get involved.

    As it appears from the police report, none of my brother's neighbors except for E. M. T. Cheryl Simcox made any official statements about the immediate circumstances of the fire.  Did no one see or hear anything?  One of Mark's neighbors, as I was told by an acquaintance of the man, claimed to have heard a commotion on my brother's property just before the truck burned.  But when I spoke to him, that individual had a very different story.  Another neighbor named Dan Smith, who arrived on the scene some time after the first three firefighters, told me that my brother had spoken several words–about ten--to him.  When I asked what my brother had said, he replied that Mark had recognized him and said, "Hi!"  Puzzled that my brother would have uttered so casual a greeting under the circumstances, I asked Smith what else Mark had said.  He replied that he could not recall.  Shortly after Mark's death, I spoke by phone with his friend Todd Lindell, who had lived nearby (though not on the same road) in Great Valley, and learned that my brother had spent the evening immediately after the DWI at his house.  At the end of the conversation, Todd said, "Mark would be alive today if he had not gotten the DWI."  He did not explain that comment.  But when I tried calling him back a few times for clarification about the evening of Mark's DWI, there was no answer on his cell phone, and he did not respond to the message I left.

     Three specific individuals have information that would have helped to put pressure on the State Police to seek the truth about what happened the night of Mark's truck fire.  They are Dr. Edward Piotrowski, firefighter Wayne Frank, and Mark's neighbor and E.M.T. Cheryl Simcox, all of whom gave me additional information that I cannot state in this narrative.  These are three apparently very decent people, who failed to do the right thing and come forward to reveal–or reveal fully--what they know about my brother's death.  But they are not the only ones who have remained silent.  And so, those responsible for Mark's death continue to make a mockery of justice.  But I promised my brother at his grave that I would do everything I could to get to the truth about his death and to see that justice is done for him.

    Federal officials informed me that murder is a state crime.  I contacted every relevant local and state official who might help get justice for my brother, to no avail.  Some never even bothered to reply to my letters.  Most disappointing were the responses from the office of the Governor and the Attorney General of New York State.  Governor Eliot Spitzer's office initially expressed concern and interest in the matter but then totally withdrew, with no explanation.  In response to efforts on my behalf from Senator Arlen Specter's office, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office simply insisted that I had to deal with the New York State Police about the matter.  Did the Attorney General's office somehow fail to grasp that the New York State Police were the problem to begin with and that they had never responded to my complaints in a meaningful way?

    A few good friends, especially Frank Romer, have encouraged me to persist.  Attorney Michael Kelly has kindly responded to several queries I've made about the case.  Attorney Tony Tanke, who has remained deeply concerned about the suspicious circumstances of my brother's death, has generously continued to give his advice on many issues.  And so, this blog has come into being.  I welcome any relevant comments, advice, and information.