This post considers the problem of the 911 calls in the investigation into the suspicious truck fires that claimed the lives of my brother Mark and the young pharmacist Dale Tarapacki. The problems encountered in requesting the New York State police investigators to review the 911 call made by my brother’s wife Susan and in attempting to obtain a transcript and an audio of that 911 call were discussed in previous posts (September 22 and October 27, 2011), but the importance of that call needs clarification.
In the case of Dale Tarapacki, the existence of a 911 call is itself an issue. Tarapacki was found burned beyond recognition in his truck, which was still on fire, at the remote end of Hardscrabble Road in rural Great Valley, N. Y. The fire investigator’s report records that the alarm time was 2:45 p.m. and that a request for the Cattaraugus County fire investigation team (Cattfit) was made at 3:12 p.m. on April 11, 2005. According to the report by the Sheriff’s office, “On 04/11/05, Detective Baker was requested to respond to the scene of a vehicle fire located at the top of Hardscrable [sic] Road in the Town of Great Valley. Shortly after the initial request, Detective Baker was notified that there was a badly burned body inside of the vehicle.” Another section of the police report states, “April 11th 2005 Sgt. Bryant was called and requested to respond to the scene of truck fire located at the end of Hardscrabble Road in the town of Great Valley. Cattfit was on the scene and an unidentified body was inside the vehicle.” The time of arrival by Dets. Baker and Bryant is not recorded in the police report.
Surprisingly, neither the fire investigator’s report nor the police report indicates who initially discovered the truck fire and notified authorities about it. This is essential public information that should have been in the report. One would assume that someone made a 911 call, which brought Cattaraugus County firefighters and members of the Sheriff’s office to the scene. That information is presumably important to have on record as a case develops, especially in instances with strange or suspicious circumstances. On the one hand, a 911 caller may have more information than was stated in the call, and on the other, there are certainly documented cases in which the 911 caller himself or herself is responsible for the situation at hand.
The odd, remote location of Tarapacki’s truck, the extensive mechanical damage to the truck not connected to the fire, the severely burned state of Tarapacki’s body, the bullet wound to his right thigh, and the report of a head wound are part of a cluster of suspicious circumstances (see esp. posts of July 23 and August 24, 2016; February 26, April 30, June 13, November 30, and December 31, 2017; and February 28, 2018). Although Tarapacki’s death was ruled an accident, too many facts suggest otherwise. As mentioned previously, in a comment sent to this blog (on July 20, 2014, to the post of September 23, 2013), Tarapacki’s mother states that she is “convinced his death was murder.” More recently, another member of Tarapacki’s family, who contacted me privately, affirmed that his family believes that he was murdered. Thus, it seems especially relevant in Tarapacki’s case for the Sheriff’s investigators to have recorded the identity of the person who discovered the fire and made the 911 call and to have indicated if that person was interviewed.
The circumstances of my brother’s truck fire have quite a lot in common with Tarapacki’s (see esp. post of July 23, 2016), but in Mark’s case the police report makes it clear that his wife made the 911 call. However, as the State Police investigators acknowledged, the marriage was in serious trouble (see, for instance, post of May 26, 2014), and a divorce was said to be imminent. In addition, some of Susan’s statements about events the night of the fire, as recorded in the police report, do not seem to conform to what is known about the timeline of events and conflict with comments she was reported to have made orally (see esp. post of September 22, 2012). Therefore, since the primary investigator in Mark’s case, Edward Kalfas, claimed that he could not remember Susan’s 911 call, in September 2005 Atty. Michael Kelly tried to persuade N.Y. State Police senior investigator John Wolfe to review the 911 recording. Although Wolfe initially said that he would do that, he later changed his mind and refused to review the 911 call (see post of September 22, 2011).
After making a FOIL request to the N.Y. State Police to obtain a transcript and an audio of the 911 call, I was informed that they had not been able to locate the requested materials (see post of September 22, 2011). After being informed that the Sheriff’s office preserves 911 calls, I made a FOIL request to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s office, but was told that because it was not their case, they had not kept it and that 911 calls prior to 2010 “not previously recovered” were no longer preserved (see post of October 27, 2011).
Why would the State Police refuse to comply with Atty. Kelly’s request to review the 911 call, something that would have required little effort on their part? Is it really plausible that the 911 recording was missing? If the responses by the State Police and the Sheriff’s office seemed problematic at the time, they were even more so after someone who had heard the 911 recording expressed concern about it to me. This issue was alluded to in a previous post (see July 1, 2014). But, more specifically, my source was troubled by the level of concern for Mark expressed by Susan in her 911 call. Shouldn’t that have been a matter for Inv. Kalfas to look into when he was investigating Mark’s death?