No charges in U.S. Christmas fire that killed five
June 8 |
June 8 (Reuters) - A Connecticut prosecutor said on Friday he had decided against bringing criminal charges in connection with a Stamford house fire that killed a New York fashion executive's three young daughters and both her parents on Christmas morning.
Stamford state's attorney, David Cohen, said he had conducted interviews, studied photographs and examined police and fire reports in reviewing the circumstances around a blaze that killed Grace and Sarah Badger, 7-year-old twins, Lily Badger, 9, and their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
The home's owner, Madonna Badger, a New York fashion advertising executive, and a male acquaintance, Michael Borcina, a contractor who was renovating the Victorian-style house, survived the early morning blaze that destroyed its upper levels that included the children's bedrooms.
Cohen concluded the fire was most likely started in the house's "mud room" after a paper bag filled with fire place ash was placed there, according to a statement.
"In a tragedy of this magnitude, it is understandable that both the people affected by it personally and the public at large need to find that someone is responsible, that it is not just a senseless accident," Cohen said. "However, my determination must be based solely on whether there is sufficient evidence to hold someone criminally responsible."
Firefighters had to pull Badger away from the still-burning house as she tried urgently to find family members, officials said at the time. Her father, Lomer Johnson, 71, a former safety director at a Kentucky liquor company, was trying to save one of his granddaughters when he was overcome - his body was found on part of the roof just outside the window of a bedroom where she lay.
Early Christmas morning, Borcina, after wrapping presents with Badger, decided to clean out the fireplace where a fire had been burning since the previous afternoon, according to Cohen. He shoveled the ash into a paper bag.
"He says that he then smoothed out the ashes in the bag with his hand. This was confirmed by Mrs. Badger, who stated that this allayed any concern that she might have had that there were live embers present," Cohen said. "The bag was placed in a plastic storage box which was then placed just inside the exterior door in the mud room, the point of origin of the fire."
Badger had been renovating it the house, located near the waterfront on Connecticut's shore on Long Island Sound, work that required the installation of "hard wired" smoke detectors, connected to the electrical system of the house.
While the detectors had been installed, they had not been connected to the electrical system and were not functioning, Cohen said.
After a review of the case, Cohen said he eliminated arson charges since they would require "the intentional starting of a fire," and felt manslaughter would not apply in the absence of evidence "that either Mrs. Badger or Mr. Borcina were aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that there was a possible live ember in the ash that could result in a catastrophic fire."
He added, "It stretches belief to think that they would consciously disregard the danger and go to sleep, much less that they would disregard any danger to the Badger children or Mrs. Badger's parents." (Reporting By Paul Thomasch; Editing by Sandra Maler and M.D. Golan)
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