Thursday, February 2, 2012

Further Concerns about the Scene of Mark's Truck Fire

     This post expands on concerns raised previously about the scene of my brother's truck fire. The original post (September 22, 2010) describes the scene as I understood it from information contained in the police and fire investigator's reports and from statements made to me by two emergency workers present that night and by Mark's attending physician at the burn unit. In that post, I also raised five crucial questions: (1) How did Mark's truck end up in the field? (2) Who put the gas can into the cab of the truck? (3) How did Mark end up saturated with gasoline? (4) How was Mark's head injured? (5) How did a pool of Mark's blood end up in his driveway?

     In a subsequent post (June 26, 2011), I questioned how Mark ended up where he was found in the field across from his house. That his truck was in the field at all is very suspicious, for there is no evidence that it had initially caught on fire in Mark’s driveway (and thus might have had to be backed away in a hurry), and it had not run out of gas (and thus in driving home my brother might have pulled into the field as the truck came to a halt). It is difficult to explain why my brother himself was sixty feet away from the passenger's side of the truck, the door of which was closed, whereas the driver's side door was open.  As that post also points out, there seems to be no evidence of a fire trail, although my brother's wife Susan says in her witness statement that when she arrived on the scene, she saw Mark “crawling away from the truck” and “tried to put the flames on him out.”

     This post raises some related points about the State Police investigation that need clarification. When the first firefighter arrived on the scene, he not only saw the truck burning and Mark lying enveloped in flames; he also observed something else burning in the field. I quote verbatim what firefighter Gary Wind says in his witness statement: “I observed a pickup truck across from the residence fully involved with fire to cab area and two small spots approx. 20 yards west of the vehicle in the field on fire. The second object on fire was a male known to me as Mark Pavlock laying on his back almost all his clothing burned off.”

     What was the other object that Wind saw burning in the field, also about sixty feet (“20 yards”) from the truck? Surprisingly, there is no mention of it anywhere else in the police report. Given that Wind describes my brother as one of “two small spots” on fire, this other object was presumably not something tiny. What could it have been? Wasn't it examined? Why isn't it mentioned in the narrative of the police report? The State Police and the District Attorney assumed that my brother had caused the fire either accidentally (and thus ran from the burning truck) or, more likely, deliberately in order to commit suicide (and thus instinctively ran off when the fire was too intense to endure). How would this object burning near Mark fit into either scenario? If the fire was an accident, it's not likely that my brother would have run off from the truck in flames carrying some sizable object with him. If Mark started the fire in order to commit suicide, why would he have taken anything as he fled the intense heat and fire? Since neither scenario makes any sense, it seems important to know what that object was and why it was there burning close to my brother.

     Another puzzling reference in the police report is the “book of Winston matches” listed in Inv. Kalfas's narrative among “five items of evidence...secured.” Where exactly was this book of matches found? If it could have been identified as specifically “Winston” matches, then it was presumably not found in or near the truck, which was burned so extensively. Was this book of matches found in Mark's driveway, where a pool of his blood was discovered the night of the fire? John Ensell, Inv. Kalfas's immediate superior at the time of the truck fire, stated in May 2010 that coins had been found in my brother's driveway near the pool of his blood. As reported in a previous post (April 20, 2011), Mr. Ensell later retracted that claim. But other items may well have been scattered near that pool of blood. If the book of matches was among items found in Mark's driveway, their presence might well suggest that a struggle had taken place there before my brother and his truck ended up on fire in that field. Or was this book of matches found close to where my brother lay burning to death in the field? If so, as criminologist Will Savive pointed out, it would suggest that Mark had been doused with gasoline and set on fire right where he was found by emergency workers. Was this book of Winston matches ever checked for fingerprints?

     Another item on that list with the Winston matches needs clarification. The “portions of burnt clothing” removed from my brother were sent to the Western Regional Crime Lab; according to an entry in Inv. Kalfas's narrative for 11/04/03, they “tested positive for gasoline.” But what clothing specifically is meant? Presumably Mark's underpants. In his witness statement, Gary Wind describes my brother lying on the ground, with “almost all his clothing burned off.” Mark's neighbor Dan Smith, who told me that he had rushed to the scene as soon as he saw the flames from his window, stated that all my brother's clothes had been burned off except for his underpants.

     How did Mark end up with gasoline on his underpants? Obviously, if gasoline was found there, his trousers must have been thoroughly saturated with it first. The original post mentions two relevant comments about the saturation with gas: (1) according to a nephew, Mark's attending physician at the burn unit stated that he had been doused with a flammable liquid; (2) according to Mark's and my half-sister, Inv. Kalfas stated that Mark had been saturated with gasoline.  The investigating authorities mentioned the following possible causes for the fire and my brother's severe burns: (1) Mark deliberately doused himself in an act of suicide; (2) he accidentally spilled gas on himself in a drunken state; or (3) he fell asleep in the truck and then lit up a cigarette with an open gas can in the cab.

     The first explanation lacks credibility because the State Police and the District Attorney produced no evidence that my brother had any intention of committing suicide, then or ever. An earlier post (December 11, 2010) deals with that issue in some detail. The second is equally implausible because even if Mark had been drinking prior to the truck fire, he would hardly have bothered to retrieve a gas can when he had no use for gasoline (the tank was almost full) and because it does not account for the bizarre location of the truck in the field. The third is highly illogical for several reasons: the inexplicable location of the truck, the presence of the gas can in the cab, where Mark would never have put it, and a flash fire caused by lighting up a cigarette near an open gas can, which would not have soaked my brother with gasoline. In addition, none of these explanations could account for the pool of Mark's blood in his driveway and the wounds to his head (discussed in the original post).

     A related question concerns the amount of gasoline in the can. The can was apparently nowhere near full. In a meeting with Att. Michael Kelly in September 2005, Inv. Kalfas stated the following: Mark's wife Susan told him that she had purchased the gas can and that it was half-full, as she had used it to mow the lawn. Was that enough gasoline to douse my brother so thoroughly, to saturate the driver's seat area, and to sustain the fire that continued to burn in the truck for some time? As the fire investigator's report indicates, the truck's fuel system itself was not affected.

     How much more could--and should--have been done with the physical evidence on the scene to determine the real reason for that suspicious truck fire and the pervasive third-degree burns that must have caused unimaginable pain before they ended my poor brother's life?


  1. More difficulty with the NYSP investigation! Since Wind was afirefighter, the police investigator should have picked up and pursued his observation. It looks as if Wind is describing the truck on fire plus 2 other fire spots, one of which was your brother on fire. What was the other one? Why did the NYSP investigator apparently show no interest in it? Your brother's death certainly didn't get the kind of investigation Americans typically expect of their state police.

  2. To Anonymous of Feb. 4:

    As you say, "It looks as if Wind is describing the truck on fire plus 2 other fire spots," one of which was my brother. Since I know of at least three firefighters on the scene (Gary Wind, Mark Ward, and Wayne Frank), I wonder if any of them actually went and looked at the other thing burning. I assume that the fire must have been put out on it as well as on Mark. Certainly, the investigating authorities on the scene should have scrutinized it.

  3. This is a well thought-out analysis. You are a good sister to honour your brother this way, and I wish you all good luck in achieving a successful conclusion to your search.

  4. I was looking over this post again and noticed that you added the fifth crucial question (from your original post) to the four that you previoualy listed here. T^hat issue about the blood is really important, and so I'm glad that you made sure to note it here.

  5. Did the investigators ever check the gas can and passenger side door for finger prints? I'm sure that another set would be on there if Mark wasn't the type of person to leave a gas can on the floor of the passenger seat.

    1. To Anonymous of February 22, 2013:

      Good question. I don't know the answer. But in early November 2003 I went up to the State Police compound in Olean, where Mark's truck was being kept. My brother's death was so incomprehensible that I wanted to see the truck itself before it was removed. It was very badly burned: almost all the paint was gone—only a small section of the rear (maybe a foot or more) was still red. So, I assume that any fingerprints on the scorched exterior would have been burned off with the paint. Of course, there could have been fingerprints on that part of the back exterior where the paint still remained. But I have no idea what kind of forensic work was performed on the surface of the truck. As to the gas can, according to the police report, "melted remains of a red plastic gas can" (which the fire investigator's report states was found on the passenger's side floor) were sent to the Western Regional Crime Lab. It is not clear from the police report what kind of testing was done on the can or what the results were.