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Police captain credited with saving son in Carmel fire

May 2, 2012 10:14:09 AM PDT
There is no word on what caused the raging fire that killed a police captain and three members of his family in Putnam County early Tuesday.

The fire started just before 2 a.m. at the family home on Wyndham Lane in Carmel.

Tom Sullivan, Captain of the Larchmont Police Department and a former NYPD officer, died trying to save his family.

The Journal News reports that Sullvian got his only son, 20-year-old Tom Sullivan, Jr., out of the house and then ran back into the home to try to save his wife and two daughters.

All four died as flames destroyed the home. They died from breathing smoke and carbon monoxide as their home was consumed by fire, the medical examiner said. The Putnam County coroner, William Stahl, said that "probably" means they died before being burned. He said the autopsy finding that asphyxiation caused the deaths was preliminary, pending microscopic examination of tissue and toxicology tests.

What caused the fire remained a mystery.

"Everything's being explored," Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson said. "Whether it was suspicious or not is still being investigated."

The blaze was so intense that it melted the siding of two nearby homes and prevented firefighters from entering, said Johnson. It took firefighters from several towns three hours to extinguish the flames.

The fire also melted plastic and paint on cars at the home.

Officials were able to find Sullivan's body on the rear deck, where Johnson said he apparently landed after jumping from the second floor. Two other bodies have been recovered but not identified, and the fourth has possibly been located by a cadaver-sniffing dog.

"They were pretty well burned," Johnson said. "It's very difficult to identify them without an autopsy and DNA."

The other victims are believed to be Sullivan's wife, Donna, and his two teenage daughters, 18-year-old Meaghan and 13-year-old Mairead. Thomas Sullivan, Jr., escaped by crawling down the stairs and out of the garage after being woken up by his father, Johnson said.

"He was screaming that there was fire in the house," he said.

The fire left little behind of the home.

Johnson said no 911 calls came from inside the house, which he said was equipped with multiple wired smoke detectors. None sent any alarm to a monitoring station.

Sullivan was a former New York police officer assigned to the Bronx who had left the city for the comparatively tranquil suburbs two decades ago because he felt he could make a bigger difference in a smaller community.

"We are devastated, the village of Larchmont as a whole," said Larchmont Police Chief John Poleway, who said Sullivan was "full of integrity, honesty, he was dedicated to family."

Sullivan's daughters were students at Carmel High School. Mairead was a freshman and Meaghan a senior.

"The school community is devastated," said the district's superintendent, James Ryan. "We are working together in this very difficult time to offer support to students and staff."

Principal Kevin Carroll said the girls "were good students and nice kids."

"Obviously today their teachers were very upset, and of course the other students," he said, adding that school psychologists were following the girls' class schedules to see the children who would be most upset.

He said that many of the students knew of the fire by the time they got to school, and that administrators made an official announcement at 7:10 a.m.

"It was very quiet for the most part," Carroll said of the school's atmosphere. "There was something in the air."

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