2012-05-03 / Front Page

UPDATE: Thousands expected for funeral Saturday

Police interview lone survivor of fire that killed 4
Eric Gross


Investigators attempt to determine the cause of Tuesday’s tragic fire in Carmel. Investigators attempt to determine the cause of Tuesday’s tragic fire in Carmel.

 Carmel Police have interviewed the lone survivor of Tuesday's tragic blaze that claimed the lives of four members of the Sullivan family.

Police Chief Michael Johnson told the Courier on Thursday that detectives spoke with Thomas Sullivan Jr. for more than three hours: “The young man was able to provide additional details of what occurred early Tuesday morning while clarifying questions that law enforcement and fire personnel needed to know in order to proceed with the investigation.”

Johnson said additional interviews will be carried out by detectives from his department and investigators from the Sheriff’s Department of "all emergency responders who answered the alarm, neighbors and anyone else who could provide us with information."

The chief said that in the meantime, police were awaiting analyses of samples obtained at the scene in the hours following the tragedy.

Johnson said that out of respect to the family no additional information would be released until after Saturday's funerals have taken place.

Flames engulfed the Thomas Sullivan residence on Wyndham Lane within minutes and when firefighters arrived soon after the 2 a.m. alarm was received the two-story home was a “ball of fire,” according to Carmel Fire Chief Robert Lipton.

Original story, from Thursday's Courier:

Carmel is in mourning this week following a raging fire that claimed the lives of four members of a local family.

Flames engulfed the Thomas Sullivan residence on Wyndham Lane within minutes early Tuesday – and when firefighters arrived soon after the 2 a.m. alarm, the two-story home was a “ball of fire” according to Carmel Chief Robert Lipton.

Lipton sounded a general alarm and requested mutual aid from surrounding communities. “I never saw such an intense fire,” said the chief, adding: “Neighbors were running around, many of them screaming uncontrollably. Flames were blowing out of the front of the building. In minutes the home was destroyed. Anyone inside didn’t have a chance.”

Lipton said the blaze was so intense that it melted the siding on two nearby homes as well as plastic and paint on vehicles parked nearby.


Members of the Sullivan family pose during a recent family gathering. 
Terri Oliver Members of the Sullivan family pose during a recent family gathering. Terri Oliver Killed in the blaze was Thomas Sullivan, 48, whose body was found on a rear deck. Authorities said that after alerting his 20-year-old son, Thomas Jr., who escaped by exiting a garage door, the elder Sullivan was unable to rescue his wife, Donna, and the couple’s daughters Megan, 17 and Mairead, 15. The elder Sullivan perished when he dove out a secondfloor window to the family deck below.

Thomas Jr. was taken to Danbury Hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and later released.

Emergency responders from the local, county and state levels spent the entire day at the scene searching for the victims. A backhoe demolished what remained of the 3,100-square-foot home before crews found the charred bodies of the victims and their four pet Yorkshire terriers. It wasn’t until 8:30 p.m. – or 18 hours after the fire was first reported – that the body of the youngest child was found buried beneath the rubble.


County Executive MaryEllen Odell gets an update early Tuesday morning from fire officials at the scene of the inferno. 
Eric Gross County Executive MaryEllen Odell gets an update early Tuesday morning from fire officials at the scene of the inferno. Eric Gross The bodies were taken to Putnam Hospital

Center for positive identification and autopsies.

The elder Sullivan was a captain with the Larchmont Police Department.

As fire crews, police and investigators searched the rubble of the once two-story home, members of the Larchmont PD arrived on the scene and prayed. One highranking officer said he was too upset to comment.

Carmel Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt described the events as “unimaginable. Tom Sullivan and his family were supportive of our community when it came to youth sports. He was instrumental in the creation of Camarda Park off Seminary Hill Road.”

Schmitt called Sullivan a “great guy. I knew him personally. We ran across each other over the years when I served on the Carmel PD while he served his police department in Larchmont with great pride.”

James O’Neill, president of the Stephen

Driscoll Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, called Sullivan a “cop’s cop. He was highly respected in the law enforcement community throughout not only the Hudson Valley but across New York State. Our prayers are with his son and other members of the Sullivan family.”

County Executive MaryEllen Odell was also shocked by the news. Soon after arriving at the fire scene in the early morning hours, Odell called the victims “great people. Tommy and Donna were incredible. He coached our kids in youth sports for years. He was funny, generous and an all-around good guy. Donna was a wonderful mother and the girls were adorable. Tommy Jr. was a special kid as well. He attended JFK High School with my own son. I promise you that our community will wrap its arms around this young man.”

The two girls were students at Carmel High School. Principal Kevin Carroll said both Megan, who was a senior, and Maireed, a freshman, were well liked: “They were great kids. The news is so very tragic. Our school has come together as a family over this tragic event.”

School Superintendent James Ryan said his district’s crisis teams were on hand for students or faculty who needed to talk: “These professionals went into the classrooms and followed the schedules that the girls followed. Many students took advantage of the offer.”

Donna Sullivan was employed at Arms Acres in Carmel as an intake counselor. Patrice Wallace-Moore, executive director of the institution off Seminary Hill Road, described her employee as a “dedicated woman. She was private and never brought fanfare to herself but always talked about her family in loving tones. We paused and prayed for her today.”

Cause of the fire remains under investigation. Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson said Wednesday morning that the origin of the fire was determined to have started on the north side of the front of the residence: “The Putnam Fire Investigation Team has not determined the cause until further testing and evaluation are completed.”

New York State fire investigators are assisting members of the Investigation Team, as well as detectives from the Carmel PD and investigators from the Sheriff’s Department in determining a cause.

Johnson said samples taken at the scene were transported to the NYS Police Crime Lab in Albany for analysis. County Coroner William Stahl said the cause of death was from breathing smoke and carbon monoxide; microscopic tissue examination and toxicology reports are pending.

Autopsies were performed on the four bodies removed from the burned out home late Tuesday night at Putnam Hospital Center. Johnson said all of the bodies were burned beyond recognition and dental records were compared to identify members of the family.

Johnson estimated the investigation into the circumstances of the tragedy will take several weeks to complete.

Firefighters from Lake Carmel, Brewster, Mahopac and Kent assisted at the scene along with Assistant Commissioner of Emergency Services Adam Stiebeling, Deputy Emergency Services Coordinators Mike Hengel and James Ciulla, and a representative of the Putnam Bureau of Emergency Services.

The blaze was described as one of the most tragic in county history and is thought to be the most severe in terms of deaths. Stiebeling recalled fires in Mahopac and Kent that claimed individuals and in 1997 when a fiery explosion killed two people at the former Keltie’s Bum Street Restaurant on Route 121 in Southeast but “nothing of this magnitude.”

Services for the Sullivan family will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday at St. James Church in Carmel.

O’Neill predicted a large turnout from members of the law enforcement community, as well as local friends. Police have urged residents of the area to avoid Route 52 and Gleneida Avenue in downtown Carmel Saturday starting at 8 a.m., due to road closures and detours.

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“Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete. If you’re alive, it isn’t.” ~Lauren Bacall