Wednesday July 13, 2011 was the deadliest day in Washington County’s recent history. Between two unrelated incidents, nine people lost their lives that day. As YNN’s Matt Hunter reports, on Thursday, the man investigators believe is responsible for six of those deaths learned his fate in court.
WASHINGTON COUNY, N.Y. – “I went to go use the phone to call the fire department and I heard this scream, like a screech,” Alicia Berg said. “The next thing I know, I woke up on the ground. I really don’t know what else happened.”
Alicia Berg and her younger sister, Brianna, were two of the five people who miraculously escaped with their lives on July 13, 2011 when their Salem home suddenly burst into flames. The 22-year-old Alicia would spend the following four months in the hospital. Her sister’s injuries were less severe.
Six others, including their mother, Tammy Palmer, and Berg’s two-month-old daughter, Niah Lynn Durham, would not be so lucky.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” Berg said. “I miss my mom. She was my best friend. We would do everything together. Now I have nobody. I’m lost, seriously, I’m lost. I don’t know what to do. And then my daughter, when I see little babies, I can’t, I break down.”
On Thursday, the man authorities say was responsible, Steven McComsey, 34, was sentenced to one to three years in prison for his role in the blast.
Last month, after more than a year of denying any responsibility, he entered an “Alford plea” to one count of criminally negligent homicide.
Before the sentencing, Linda Porlier, whose 19-year-old daughter, Clarissa, lost her life, read the lone victim’s impact statement.
“Nowhere in any parenting class I have taken, do they prepare you for losing a child,” Porlier told the court. “They teach you how to bring them into the world and how to take care for them when they are hurt. Lessons on how to bury that precious angle that you have been entrusted to protect for the rest of your life do not exist.”
Investigators maintain McComsey’s tampering with a propane tank on the property caused the explosion. By entering an “Alford plea,” he did not officially accept guilt, only acknowledging the evidence against him was sufficient enough to warrant a conviction.
It’s because of this fact that still grieving family members believe they may never find closure.
“He’s gone out of his way to show that he’s done nothing wrong, he’s accepted no responsibility for anything he’s done,” said Butch Hurlburt, Tammy Palmer’s uncle.
“He’s like ashamed, he didn’t even look in our direction,” Berg said.
“Steven lied to us. We didn’t get any closure today,” said Kim Ryan, Palmer’s younger sister. “We’re still wondering did he do it or is he just accepting this.”
McComsey was standing in the doorway at the time of the explosion and was among the five survivors.
The others who lost their lives were 20-year-old Darrel Durham, 19-year-old Lawrence Berg II and 16-year-old Robert Sanford.