This post deals with the very odd fact that when emergency workers arrived, they found my brother engulfed in flames in the field about sixty feet from his truck. How did Mark get there?
Officials assumed that Mark had driven the truck to the field, where it caught on fire. One explanation was relayed to me by John Eberth, at the time a reporter for a local newspaper, the Olean Times Herald. After deciding to cancel the article on Mark he had said was "set to run," Eberth informed me in December 2004 that he had spoken with the fire investigator. Here is how Eberth reported in an e-mail the fire investigator's assessment: "He reiterated what investigators have been telling us, that they believe the fire was an accident, possibly caused by Mark falling asleep with a cigarette in his hand." Why would my brother have driven his truck into that field across from his property between 10:30 and 10:55 p.m.? Let's not forget that the pool of Mark's blood was left in his driveway before, according to the fire investigator's theory, he could have driven the truck into field and then possibly fallen asleep.
Furthermore, as mentioned in my original post below (September 22, 2010), the fire investigator's report states that the fire started in the driver's seat area and lists textiles, plastic, and gasoline as materials ignited and a match or lighter as the source of ignition; it also mentions that the remains of a gasoline can and a lighter were on the passenger's side floor. In addition, the report refers to an "accelerant" and to "preparation." The logical inference from the fire investigator, then, would seem to be that Mark somehow spilled gasoline onto the driver's seat before he lit up a cigarette, causing the truck to go up in flames. But why would my brother have brought a gasoline can into the cab of the truck and opened it at all? The tank was three-quarters full. Putting aside that problem, one assumes from this scenario that Mark, on fire, managed to get out and go as far as he could from the burning truck to save himself.
But why was Mark in the field on the passenger's side of the truck? When neighbor and EMT Cheryl Simcox arrived (around two or three minutes after my brother's wife Susan called 911), she thought it very strange that Mark was lying fifty to sixty feet 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. As I noted in my original post, Cheryl 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 also said that while in her bedroom, she had heard an explosion that rocked their trailer and that as she left, she saw the truck engulfed in fifty-foot flames. Why would my brother have risked going around such an inferno?
And why would Mark have failed to roll around before he got sixty or so feet away from the truck? In addition, Cheryl stated that when she got there, she could see that my brother was not rolling around at all. He was simply lying there motionless with two-foot flames shooting from his entire body. Recall that both his attending physician Dr. Edward Piotrowski and firefighter Wayne Frank mentioned a wound on my brother’s forehead.
How can one square this theory of an accident suggested by authorities, including the fire investigator (as conveyed by John Eberth), with Cheryl's eyewitness observations on the scene and with details of the fire investigator's own report?
Shortly before Cheryl arrived, Mark's wife Susan, according to her witness statement, went to the field right after she called 911. Here is her brief account of what happened then. I quote her statement verbatim from the police report: "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 and he said, 'I did nothing.'" Susan does not specify how far from the truck Mark was when she approached him. Did he continue to crawl away from the truck until Cheryl arrived? Or was he already around sixty feet away from it? Was Mark speaking to Susan with two-foot flames shooting from his whole body? Or did the flames increase in the interval between Susan's arrival and Cheryl's?
One important point about the scene of the truck fire has recently been suggested by a criminologist who happened to learn about my blog and has offered his insights. In analyzing details of the scene, criminologist Will Savive pointed out that if Mark ran or crawled from his truck while on fire to his final destination, he would of necessity have left a fire trail. The police report mentions nothing about such a trail. Since he had examined the photos of the scene in his interview with the New York State Police investigators in 2005, I contacted Attorney Michael Kelly about this issue. After checking his records of that interview, Attorney Kelly replied that he found no indication of any such fire trail.
I myself have filed a FOIL request with the New York State Police to obtain a copy of the photos of the scene of my brother’s truck fire. I am currently waiting for their reply.
If any readers of this blog have suggestions about points raised in this post, please feel free to send in a comment. It would be appreciated. The police and the fire investigator’s reports are now available to examine in pdf format through links on the main page of this blog.
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