Smoke inhalation killed NY police captain, family

Associated Press Modified: May 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm •  Published: May 2, 2012
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CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) — A police captain, his wife and two daughters died from breathing smoke and carbon monoxide as their home was consumed by fire, a coroner said Wednesday.

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.

Larchmont police Capt. Thomas Sullivan; his wife, Donna; and his daughters, 18-year-old Meaghan and 13-year-old Mairead, died early Tuesday morning at their Carmel home.

Their bodies were "pretty much burned," police Chief Michael Johnson said.

Carmel police said Wednesday that they had determined where the fire started — on the north side of the front of the house — but did not yet know the cause. Police said the investigation could take several weeks.

The Sullivans' 20-year-old son, Thomas Jr., escaped after he heard his father shouting that the house was on fire, Johnson said. An uncle told The Journal News that the son told him his father then ran back inside to try to rescue his wife and daughters.

"Tommy Sullivan was a hero," said the uncle, Thomas Zielinski.

The son was treated for smoke inhalation at a hospital and released.

The blaze melted the siding of two nearby homes and plastic and paint on cars. The intense flames also prevented firefighters from entering, said Johnson. It took firefighters from several towns three hours to extinguish the flames. Video of the fire showed the home being nearly entirely consumed by a fireball.

"Everything's being explored ... whether it was suspicious or not is still being investigated," Johnson said. He said a dog trained to detect accelerants was used at the scene, but he would disclose what the dog found.