Friday, January 31, 2020

Problematic Police Behavior in the Investigation into My Brother's Death

This post discusses problematic behavior by the New York State Police investigator related to certain insurance issues in the case of my brother Mark’s death.

Some time after Mark’s truck fire, it was relayed to me that his auto insurance company was concerned about the circumstances of the fire and was holding back on paying out for his truck.  Although I did not know then with what company Mark had insured the truck, after obtaining the police report through a FOIL request in September 2004, I learned that Nationwide was the insurer.  When I contacted the company later in September to find out about their concerns, a Nationwide agent mentioned that they had paid out on the policy for the truck but not on a second policy for medical bills.

Another agent then informed me that they were going to arbitration with Mark’s wife Susan over the medical bills.  According to the agent, they had determined on the basis of their own investigation that the fire was not an accident.  Among other things I had learned from the police report, I mentioned the pool of my brother’s blood found in his driveway the night of the fire.  Expressing surprise at this information, the agent stated that the lead investigator, Edward Kalfas, had not revealed anything about blood found on the scene.  The agent added that Kalfas also would not let Nationwide see the police report.  After that conversation, I sent the police report to the Nationwide agent.

Inv. Kalfas’s failure to inform the insurance company about the pool of Mark’s blood is troubling.  Withholding that information prevented Nationwide from making a fully informed determination about the cause of the truck fire.  Since the police report does not mention the wound on Mark’s forehead, which I learned about first in 2005 from my brother’s attending physician at the burn unit and later from two fire fighters (see most recently post of January 29, 2019), Nationwide certainly did not have the full facts they needed to make a sound and accurate judgment about the fire.

When I brought up this issue with Buffalo criminal attorney Michael Kelly in 2005, he stated that Kalfas should have let Nationwide know about the pool of blood.  The Nationwide agent had informed me that they were maintaining the position that Mark’s death was a suicide because of comments made off the record to their investigator and because of the heavily redacted nature of the police report, which made the case difficult to assess accurately.  At the end of the arbitration process, the agent reported that they did not have to pay the medical bills, which were made the responsibility of another company.

Why did Inv. Kalfas withhold such important information about my brother’s truck fire that certainly did not point to an accident or a suicide?  Who made the comments “off the record” that suggested a suicide?  In spite of numerous suspicious facts (esp. Mark’s blood on the driveway, the wound on his forehead, and the gas can in the cab of the truck), my brother’s death was ultimately declared an accident by then District Attorney Edward Sharkey.  However, the New York State Police continued to insist that they thought it a suicide (see most recently post of November 30, 2019).

Did Kalfas not only withhold significant information from Nationwide but also suggest to their investigator “off the record” that Mark had committed suicide?  According to Mark’s and my half-sister, Susan told her that Kalfas had helped her with an insurance issue by talking directly to the representative of an insurance company.  Did that help also involve withholding information about the blood in the driveway from Nationwide and any other insurance company concerned with Mark’s death?