Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Problem of My Brother’s Whereabouts Shortly before His Truck Fire

This post considers further the issue of where my brother Mark was shortly before a pool of his blood ended up in his driveway and his truck went up in flames in the field across from his house in rural Great Valley, N.Y., on September 23, 2003 (see posts of August 22, 2012, and March 3, 2014).

When I spoke with acquaintances of Mark’s in the weeks after his death, no one seemed to have any idea about his whereabouts the entire day of the fire. In conversations with me by phone and at one point in person, the N.Y. State Police investigator Edward Kalfas was not forthcoming with information and apparently was not pleased that I had made some inquiries of my own.  He simply insisted that it looked like a suicide, but offered only the flimsiest of explanations for that view (see esp. post of March 27, 2012).

In an interview with Atty. Michael Kelly in September 2005, Kalfas acknowledged that he had not found anyone who saw Mark out the day of the fire.  Mark’s wife Susan says in her witness statement that he was at home that day but left around 8:45 p.m.  (Kalfas’s entry in the police report for September 25, 2003, that members of the Holy Cross Athletic Club commented that Mark “was very upset at getting arrested for DWI the day before the fire,” was presumably a careless error.  Mark clearly did not go back to that club in the evening after his DWI, and Kalfas did not learn of anyone who saw him out the next day.)

According to an anonymous letter sent to me (see post of August 11, 2014), just before the fire Mark was at the house of a neighbor, who insisted that he could not have had as high a blood alcohol level as was reported (on the problem of the blood alcohol level, see posts of September 1, September 23, and October 29, 2013).  Although a neighbor thus privately acknowledged being with Mark not long before the fire, that person presumably had not come forward during the investigation (nor had spoken publicly about it later) to provide an assessment, based on direct observation, of Mark’s physical and mental state the night of the fire.

Someone who knew my brother well informed me that Mark presumably would not have gone to visit anyone on Whelan Road that evening.  My brother was certainly not at the home of EMT Cheryl Simcox around the corner on Cross Road (see Cheryl Simcox’s witness statement).  Others on that street as well do not seem to have been likely candidates for a late-evening visit.

The broader neighborhood, however, included Mark’s friends Todd Lindell, Sidney Lindell, and Alexis and Jim Wright.  According to Alexis, Jim had tried unsuccessfully to reach my brother by phone earlier that day, and then they drove by his house around 5:30 but did not go in (see post of September 29, 2019).  Sidney Lindell told me that he assumed Mark would have been embarrassed about his DWI.

Todd Lindell stated that on the day before the truck fire my brother was at his house well into the evening after Todd retrieved Mark’s truck from the impoundment.  In addition, Todd mentioned that that he had seen my brother on a daily basis for years and had an "open door" policy for him.  Did Mark take advantage of that “open door” the evening of his truck fire?  Todd also made the suggestive comment: “Mark would be alive today if he had not gotten the DWI."  Yet he did not return my call when I tried to contact him again, even though he had stated that he would be happy to talk to me any time (see also posts of August 14, 2015, and December 31, 2017).

In small towns, privacy is a scarce commodity; everyone seems to know everyone else’s business.  Later in the fall of 2003, my brother’s son Brian called, informing me that the autopsy report was out and that it ruled Mark’s death “an accident.”  Puzzled that a determination was made while a police investigation was still ongoing, I asked about the Medical Examiner’s explanation.  Stating that there wasn’t one, Brian offered to send me a copy of the report.  He also asserted, “My mother heard that you have been talking to people around Salamanca about Mark's death.”

It took time to learn the identity of some individuals who were on the scene and to find out where some lived.  A number of years after my brother’s death, I located one of them, who expressed surprise that I had not been in contact sooner and observed, “You’ve talked to everybody else.”  Small towns talk.

Was it small-town pressure that kept the person whom Mark visited shortly before he was burned to death from coming forward?