Monday, January 27, 2014

A Follow-up on the Claim of Suicide

Two earlier posts (December 11, 2010, and March 27, 2012) focused on the view expressed by New York State Police and Cattaraugus County District Attorney that Mark’s death was most likely a suicide, though it was officially called an accident.  As recent posts (September 23, 2013, and October, 29, 2013) indicate, Mark certainly did not back his truck into that field the night of his fire as the State Police claim he did in an intoxicated state.  Someone else had to have driven the truck there.  Furthermore, if he was not intoxicated, Mark would not have fallen as the State Police claim he did and would not have left a significant pool of blood right where he normally parked his truck. But since the State Police continued well beyond the investigation to insist that suicide was the likely cause of my brother's death, this post follows up on the questionable bases for that claim.

Statements made about the likelihood of a suicide were expressed by Inv. Edward Kalfas, Sr. Inv. John Wolfe, Capt. George Brown, Lt. Allen, and D.A. Edward Sharkey.  Inv. Kalfas gave the following three reasons to support the theory that Mark had been depressed: 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.  In the post of March 27, 2012, I expressed my concerns about the origin of these alleged motivations for depression and offered concrete evidence to counter them. 

It is not necessary to reiterate here the information in those previous posts.  But a few important points in the post of March 2012 should be restated.  First, on the issue of Mark’s alleged depression over his DWI the day before the truck fire, there is a significant problem with Inv. Kalfas’s entry in the police report for September 25, 2003.  Although he records that members of the Holy Cross Athletic Club commented that Mark “was very upset at getting arrested for DWI the day before the fire,” he admitted to Atty. Michael Kelly in September 2005 that he had not found anyone who saw Mark out the day after the DWI.  Therefore, those club members had no opportunity to observe Mark's reaction to his DWI.  Second, Mark's interaction with friends shortly after his release from jail conflicts with the State Police's position that he was depressed as a result of the DWI.  Third, it is unclear to what extent a highly problematic statement to me by Mark's daughter that he had left her a suicide letter may have influenced the investigating authorities.  [On the report of a recent claim by Mark’s wife Susan that Mark left a suicide letter, see the post of November 23, 2013.]

In referring to a meeting in May 2010 with current Cattaraugus County D.A. Lori Rieman, I also brought up the comment by former Sr. Inv. John Ensell, Inv. Kalfas's immediate superior at the time of the investigation, that my brother had been under a “suicide watch” while in jail. Since Mr. Ensell was obviously implying that Mark’s mental state immediately after his arrest was an issue, I raised a question in my post of March 2012 about the conditions under which a suicide watch might have been held.  I have since learned that a suicide watch is merely routine procedure in that upstate New York town for an arrest such as a DWI.

Around a year after my brother’s death, I spoke with the claims agent of an insurance company potentially responsible for the cost of the Medivac airlift to the Erie County Medical Center and of Mark’s treatment in the burn unit.  Statements to me by the agent have been a matter of concern for two reasons. 

First, when the company looked into the cause of the fire, certain people on the scene who agreed to speak with their investigator only “off the record” told him that it looked like a suicide.  The claims agent did not explain to me what the basis was for that determination.  Of course, the people who spoke to the insurance investigator could not have had all the information necessary to make a definitive judgment.  But why did they insist on speaking only “off the record”?  Individuals presuming to have the knowledge to make such a claim should not hide behind a cloak of anonymity.  Furthermore, if they told the insurance investigator that it looked like a suicide, did these individuals make the same claim to the State Police investigator?  Allegations by certain people that my brother spoke clearly to them on the scene led the authorities to insist that Mark had not said anything about foul play and therefore had not been the victim of a murder.  But such comments (e.g., by Mark’s neighbor Dan Smith) fly in the face of the known facts, including the official report that Mark could not communicate at all on the airlift to E.C.M.C. (see November 30, 2011, and March 13, 2013).

It would be useful to know what specific individuals claimed that Mark’s death looked like a suicide and to learn how they arrived at that conclusion.  I believe I can say confidently that it was not Gary Wind (firefighter and then deputy sheriff), Wayne Frank (firefighter), or Cheryl Simcox (EMT), all of whom told me emphatically that Mark’s death did not look like a suicide.  Besides neighbor Dan Smith (who was there only briefly), the following are the only other individuals who I learned were on the scene: Mark Ward (firefighter, also close friend of Mark’s wife), Josh Newmark (EMT), Christopher Baker (fire investigator), Steve Arrowsmith (then Salamanca policeman), and Patrick Welch (police cadet and close friend of Mark’s son Brian).  There were others, of course, including members of the fire investigation team, but I do not know their identity.

Second, the claims agent was very surprised when I brought up the pool of Mark’s blood found in the driveway where he usually parked his truck.  The agent responded that the State Police investigator had not mentioned the pool of blood to them and in fact refused to let them see the police report when they asked for it.  As Atty. Michael Kelly stated to me in 2005, Inv. Kalfas should have let the insurance company read the police report.  Did Inv. Kalfas want the insurance company not to find out about the pool of Mark’s blood on the scene?

A conversation with my half-sister Carol McKenna in November 2004 is another matter of concern to me.  I had called Carol to ask her to contact Olean Times reporter John Eberth to urge the paper to print an article on Mark’s death.  In the course of the conversation, I mentioned that, according to Eberth, Inv. Kalfas told him that Carol believed Mark’s death was an accident.  Carol immediately exclaimed, “Why is Kalfas lying about me?  The subject of accident never came up.”  Carol made it clear that suicide was the focus in Inv. Kalfas's telephone conversations with her about Mark's death.

The report by my nephew John McKenna of a conversation that he had with one of Susan’s sisters also remains troubling to me.  According to John, Calla Smith, who was staying with Susan at the time, told him the day after Mark’s death that it looked as if the police were going to rule it a suicide.  As mentioned previously (see November 1, 2012), how could Susan’s sister possibly have known that?  To whom had she been speaking about the case?  The investigation, after all, had barely begun.

Finally, in light of the events of September 23, 2003, and those allegations of suicide, I remain concerned about the matter of a pistol Mark owned.  According to a relative, some months before his death my brother mentioned that he had obtained a license for a pistol.  This relative was also quite certain that Mark had referred to keeping the pistol in the glove compartment of his truck.  That made sense since, as someone pointed out, the M & M’s gas station where my brother was a security guard is rather isolated.  This pistol was in fact the gun that my brother mentioned to then deputy sheriff Gary Wind after he found a burned-out vehicle with Bill Duhan in it (see February 4, 2013).  Assuming that Mr. Duhan had committed suicide, Mark said, “I’d never do that to myself.  If I wanted to take my own life, I’d use a forty-five.”  My brother expressed his opinion about self-immolation clearly and cogently.  He would never have burned himself to death.
What happened to that pistol?  There is no reference in the police report to any gun found in Mark’s truck or elsewhere on the scene.  It makes one wonder further about what exactly took place in the driveway the night of that truck fire.  The events that led directly to Mark’s death would seem to have started right next to the driver’s side of his truck.  That’s where the pool of blood was found, near the left front bumper area when the truck was parked there.  That is also presumably where Mark got the wound on his forehead that Wayne Frank thought looked as if he had been hit with a nine-iron.  Or possibly with a pistol, if his attackers removed it from the glove compartment? 

1 comment:

  1. This insurance business sure puts the lie to the state police and their police report! The failure--or rather the outright refusal--of the state police to allow the insurance investigators to read their report is a gross failure of the state police in their public duties. This refusal prevented the insurance investigators from learning about the pool of Mark's blood in the T-section of the driveway. Had they known about the pool of blood, the insurance investigators would certainly have investigated it, as was their duty to their own company.