NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Criminal charges won't be filed in a Christmas morning house fire that killed three girls and their grandparents, a blaze blamed on a bag of discarded fireplace ashes, a Connecticut prosecutor said Friday.
The fire killed 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, 9-year-old Lily Badger, and their grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson. The girls' mother, Madonna Badger, and her friend Michael Borcina escaped the fire. Borcina is believed to be the one who threw out the ashes.
Stamford State's Attorney David Cohen said Friday that some precautions were taken and that while in hindsight they were insufficient, they didn't rise to the level of criminal negligence.
"When such a horrific event occurs, it is only natural that those related to the victims and the public in general want to hold someone responsible for what is otherwise an inexplicable accident," Cohen wrote in his conclusion. "I am aware that many have emotionally judged this circumstance differently. That is understandable. There is no way that I could begin to conceive of the depth of loss by the Badger family."
"However," Cohen continued, "where so much is unknown or in dispute, where the facts are inconclusive and where the safety of the public will not be enhanced, I have decided to exercise the discretion given to me by our state constitution and by my oath of office and decline, at this time, to prosecute."
The girls' parents, who are divorced, have filed notices that they plan to sue Stamford, accusing officials of intentionally destroying evidence when they demolished the tony shoreline home a day after the fire.
Cohen said "regrettably" the house was demolished and in the future the police department and prosecutor should be consulted before any demolition is carried out. Cohen, who said the investigation "was hampered to some degree" by city officials because of the demolition, said the local fire marshal should notify the state fire marshal and give that agency an opportunity to assist with the investigation so that a second opinion on the cause and origin can be determined.
Cohen said it was impossible to physically inspect the remains of the house to determine if any working smoke detectors were present in the debris, noting that debris was removed before such an inspection could be performed. He said there was no consensus on how many smoke alarms were present, where they were located or whether they had been removed or disabled, though the survivors said they didn't hear any smoke alarms.