Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Why Was the 911 Call on Mark’s Truck Fire Virtually Ignored?

This post concerns the abrupt decision by N.Y.S.P. Sr. Inv. John Wolfe not to review the 911 call made by my brother’s wife Susan the night of his truck fire.  In September 2005, when Atty. Michael Kelly met with Wolfe and Edward Kalfas, the lead detective in the investigation into Mark’s death, he asked if Kalfas had reviewed the 911 call.  As Kelly informed me, Kalfas replied that he had heard it but couldn’t remember it, and so Wolfe offered to retrieve the tape of the 911 call.  Yet Wolfe abruptly changed his mind, deciding not to retrieve the 911 call unless the case was re-opened.

As a previous post (July 1, 2014) observes, I was concerned about N.Y.S.P. Trooper David Chandler’s statement in his narrative in the police report that he was responding to “a report of a male subject possibly attempting to burn himself in his vehicle,” and I wondered if the reference to a potential self-immolation might have been someone’s interpretation of the 911 call.  Review of the 911 call seemed important, given that the investigation never found any evidence that my brother intended to commit suicide.

As previous posts (September 22 and October 27, 2011) detail, my efforts to obtain an audio or transcript of the 911 call through a FOIL request proved futile.  The N.Y.S.P. Central Records Bureau replied that they had “failed to locate any records responsive to [my] request,” and the Cattaraugus County Clerk’s Office replied that since it was not their case, they “did not maintain a copy for any reason of the recording.”

An individual who heard the 911 call even remembered it several years later and expressed some concerns about it.  Furthermore, that individual indicated that the 911 call was quite lengthy, noting that a number of things were mentioned before Susan specified the fire.  Oddly, Kalfas did not appear to have shown much interest in the 911 call.  He does not even mention the 911 call in his narrative in the police report (see link for “Official Documents” on the main blog page), and so it is not clear if he gave it any really careful attention.

911 calls are a potentially very important source of information for the investigation into a traumatic event with a resulting fatality.  A considerable amount of research has been published on the significance of even small details in 911 calls that can help shape an investigation.  It is all the more surprising, then, both that Kalfas as the principal investigator couldn’t remember the 911 call on Mark’s truck fire and that Wolfe so hastily changed his mind about reviewing the call.