“Law enforcement officials in Greece, N.Y., say they are close to seeking an indictment in connection with a 1978 motel fire that killed 10 people.”
[W]hat Greece lacks in permanent memorials it makes up for in coffee-shop conversations, and opinions, about who set the fire and why justice has never been served.
Thirty-six years later, the blaze — one of the deadliest hotel fires in the state’s history — is still under active investigation. Law enforcement officials say they are close to seeking an indictment; the prime suspect says he is innocent. Yet for people in this working-class town outside Rochester, the story is as much one of local political intrigue as of law and order.
The twist? According to officials briefed on the case, that suspect — who was also the first firefighter to arrive at the scene — is the current fire chief.
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Harold J. Phillips, then an off-duty lieutenant with the Ridge Road Fire District, was the first to report the fire, which began in a basement stairwell.
Mr. Phillips, who is both the suspect and the Ridge Road district’s current chief, has always maintained that the fire’s outbreak was accidental. He declined to be interviewed for this article. He told The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester in 2013 that the suspicion about him had taken a toll. “All these innuendos and rumors out there not only bother me, but are hurtful to my family,” he said.
Chief Phillips’s lawyer, James Nobles, said in a statement on Saturday that there was “no credible evidence” that his client “had any involvement in the fire.”
“I believe, after a thorough investigation, that the fire being an arson is also very questionable,” Mr. Nobles said, adding that he doubted that any presentation of the case to a grand jury was “likely or imminent.”The Fire Burned the Holiday Inn in Greece, NY
Harold J. Phillips in 1978. A fire lieutenant at the time, he was the first to report the blaze. Credit Burr Lewis/Democrat and Chronicle
In interviews over the years, Chief Phillips, who is known as Bud, has said he was driving by the Holiday Inn after finishing a moonlighting shift as a security guard when he saw the flames.
His call, just after 2:30 a.m., set off a swell of sirens; 125 firefighters were soon battling a full-on inferno as motel guests leapt from the windows in their pajamas. Dozens were injured. More than 150 people escaped, but 10 did not. Seven of the dead were Canadians, including three women from one family.
“In my world, I was in the right place at the right time,” Chief Phillips told The Democrat and Chronicle in 2013. “My actions saved lives.”
To many in town, though, Chief Phillips, now 66, was no hero.
A local investigator initially called the fire an accident. But an expert fire investigator from New York City, John Stickevers, was quickly brought in. He concluded that the blaze had been deliberately set. The police in Greece had 10 homicides on their hands.
Mr. Stickevers, who retired years later as New York City’s chief fire marshal, recalled in an interview that he first saw Chief Phillips while watching coverage of the fire on television when it happened. He sensed something was off, he said, but could not say exactly what.
His suspicions were heightened, he said, when he arrived in Greece to conduct his inquiry: He asserts that it would have been impossible to see the flames from the street, as Chief Phillips had described.
The link to the full article is at the top of this post.
[Ventura County, California criminal defense lawyer and State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist Jay Leiderman provides defense of cases involving oppression leveled against activists and hacktivists. He does all types of cases involving the digital revolution, civil rights, political dissent, emerging tech issues in the courts, piracy, Search and seizure issues, freedom on the internet, fighting against unjust systems, governmental and prosecutorial overreach, medical marijuana, and overall injustice. Jay fights for the underdog. Jay is a lifetime member of the NORML Legal Committee. Jay is pro-privacy for hte individual and believes in transparency for hte state and large corporations. He is also a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), The National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG), The California Public Defender’s Association (CPDA) and is also a lifetime member of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ). He is admitted to practice in state and federal courts.]