Today would be my brother Mark’s sixty-fourth birthday. When killed at age fifty-three, he was looking forward to many more birthdays and should still be here today.
As mentioned in two previous posts (April 20, 2011, and March 13, 2013), I remain concerned about major discrepancies between what Mark’s neighbor Eugene Woodworth reportedly told another person and what he told me about the night of Mark’s truck fire. The individual who reported her own conversation with Woodworth seemed very genuine and sincere. When I stopped by Our Lady of Peace Church in Salamanca in 2009 to arrange to have Masses said for relatives, then office secretary Judy Bess mentioned that she should have introduced me to the man who had just left because he had spoken to her about being on the scene of Mark’s truck fire. Expressing her sympathy to me, Judy suggested that I contact this man, whose name was Eugene Woodworth.
The two earlier posts provide details about these two conversations and about my report of the issue to Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman and former N. Y. S. P. Sr. Inv. John Ensell. Here, I will briefly summarize the two highly contradictory accounts. As Judy reported Woodworth’s account of the events, he was outside his house just before the truck fire and heard a commotion on Mark's property; he then saw my brother’s truck go down the driveway and into the field; noticing the truck in flames, he rushed over and helped to put out the fire on Mark. However, as Woodworth stated in a phone conversation with me, he saw lights flashing from inside his house but did not have a clear view because of the trees on his property; when he started down the road toward the field opposite Mark's house, he met Dan Smith returning to his own house at the end of Whalen Road; Smith told him about the fire; he himself went right back home; he never even saw Mark.
Which account is true? Is either version by Woodworth actually accurate? Judy could not possibly have radically misunderstood Woodworth’s own conversation with her. She certainly had no reason to make the story up. Even if she had fabricated it, she obviously would not have urged me to talk to Woodworth. When I informed her about Woodworth’s conversation with me, Judy insisted that she had reported Woodworth’s comments to her accurately and re-emphasized that he had heard a ruckus and screams from Mark's property and then saw the truck go into the field. She also said she was sorry that Woodworth would not tell me the truth about what he had seen the night of Mark’s truck fire.
John Ensell’s explanation that people often like to exaggerate their actions in a crisis does not seem applicable in this case, since Woodworth is an older, retired man. One would hardly expect such an individual to boast about himself in a heroic role. In addition, I have to wonder about the following comment Woodworth made in his conversation with me: “I thought that something happened on the property and surmised that Mark had backed the truck all the way across the road.” What might that “something” have been?
But there is more that concerns me about the conversation I myself had with Woodworth. As reported in previous posts (see most recently July 1, 2014), I have been concerned about the failure of the investigators in Mark’s case to examine the telephone records, in part to verify the call that his wife Susan allegedly had with a man named Peter Rapacioli between 10:30 and 10:55, just before she made the 911 call. As mentioned in the post of June 26, 2013, I have also been concerned about Rapacioli’s claim that his daughter and her husband, who live very close to Mark’s house at the intersection of Cross and Whalen Roads, slept through the entire incident of the truck fire and emergency rescue efforts. As reported in that post, Rapacioli did not reply when I asked what his daughter’s name was. He also claimed not to understand why a friend of Mark’s had told me just weeks after my brother’s death that Rapacioli planned to read the police report because he had a relative on the police force. Rapacioli insisted that he had no idea who that alleged relative on the police force could be. However, as mentioned in the post of December 24, 2013, I learned that Rapacioli is related by marriage to a veteran Salamanca police officer named Paul Myers, who is currently chief of police there.
What concerns me here is that, in my conversation with him in 2009, Eugene Woodworth mentioned the name of the couple who live in the house at the intersection of Cross and Whalen Roads. However, he said that the man’s name was Jim Pierce and that, like himself and Pete Rapacioli, he was a former railroader. When I recently asked another Great Valley resident if anyone named Pierce might have lived in that house, I was told that the owners prior to Joseph and Tracie Myers were named Cooney and that Jim Pierce lived several miles from there. Why did Woodworth give me inaccurate information about the identity of the couple who supposedly slept through all the turmoil of Mark’s truck fire? Woodworth’s misinformation is all the more disturbing because he clearly knows Rapacioli and should have been aware that Rapacioli’s daughter and her husband are his own neighbors at the intersection of Cross and Whalen Roads.
Why, for that matter, was Cheryl Simcox, who lives next door to the Myers couple, unwilling to give me their name, insisting that they had slept through the entire incident? Cheryl was very helpful to me in recounting what she had observed as an EMT and the first person on the scene after Mark’s wife. So, I was surprised at her reaction to my request for that information. What exactly, if anything, had the Myers couple said to Cheryl that made her so reticent?