No Criminal Charges in Stamford Christmas Day Fire

Lomer and Pauline Johnson and their grandchildren Lily Badger, Sarah Badger and Grace Badger died in the fire.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Lomer Johnson, pictured dressed as Santa Claus, died with his wife and three grandchildren in the fast-moving blaze.

    The state’s attorney has determined that no criminal charges should be filed in connection with a fire in Stamford on Christmas Day that killed Lomer and Pauline Johnson and their grandchildren Lily Badger, 9, and 7-year-old twins, Sarah Badger and Grace Badger.

    Madonna Badger, the mother of the girls, and her boyfriend, Michael Borcina, who was overseeing the renovation of the house, survived.

    “This is not a decision made easily or lightly. In a tragedy of this magnitude, it is understandable that both the people affected by it personally and the public at large need to find that someone is responsible, that it is not just a senseless accident. However, my determination must be based solely on whether there is sufficient evidence to hold someone criminally responsible,” David I. Cohen, the state’s attorney, stated in a report released on Friday morning.

    Cohen ruled out second-degree manslaughter charges because there was no evidence that Madonna Badger or Borcina were aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that there was a possible live ember in the ash that could result in a catastrophic fire.

    He said there was also no proof of criminally negligent homicide.

    In his report, he said the investigation was hampered to some degree by actions of some City of Stamford officials.

    Evidence points to the fire starting the "mud room." The likely cause is discarded ashes. Officials told The Associated Press that the girls wanted the ash out of the fireplace so that Santa Claus could come through the chimney.

    The house was being renovated and there were other theories as to the cause, such as an electrical fault where the electric lines enter the house or defective electric or gas meters, but the house was demolished before the State Fire Marshall’s Office or any other expert could make an independent examination and determination.

    He made the following recommendations:

    Before relinquishing the scene, the local fire marshal should notify the State Fire Marshal’s Office and give them an opportunity to assist with the investigation, so that a second opinion as to cause and origin could be obtained. This will allay any doubts as to cause and origin.

    Before any demolition is authorized and carried out, both the Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office be consulted. Even in an emergency situation, a small delay to explore alternatives will, in the long run, serve the public interest.

    The report also found that hard-wired smoke detectors had been installed but were not working because they had not been connected to the electrical system. Five or six battery-operated smoke detectors had been installed but no one who was in the vicinity of the house during the fire has reported hearing them,  

    “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. 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,” Cohen wrote. “Sometimes the provable conduct involved is such that criminal charges are warranted, especially in situations where the safety of the public can be enhanced by the deterrent effect of prosecution. However, 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.”