The mystery surrounding a Manorville fire that left a woman and her dog dead -- and another man badly injured -- is mired in details that include a home seized by the county for back taxes and a man "known" for his behavior in the past, according to fire officials.
Suffolk County Police homicide and arson squad detectives are investigating a fire in Manorville that killed a person and injured a man on Wednesday.
Seventh precinct police officers and volunteer firefighters responded to numerous 911 calls reporting a fire at the home, located at 218 Eastport Manor Road, at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. When officers and firefighters arrived, they found Charles Woolsey outside a residence that was fullly engulfed in flames.
Another woman, who was found inside the residence, was pronounced dead at the scene; it is not immediately clear if the woman was Woolsey's wife. A dog was also found covering the woman's body, according to Suffolk County police; the dog also died at the scene.
Manorville Fire Department's First Assistant Fire Chief Howard Snow said the woman was found in the kitchen and was badly burned.
Woolsey, 68, a resident of the home, was transported unconscious to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue for treatment of smoke inhalation, police said.
Snow said when he arrived on the scene, the gate was locked and bolted; police were working to open the gate and clear a long driveway that was littered with wires and poles, he said.
"The fire was fully involved," he said. "It was coming out of the roof and all the windows."
Snow said he saw Woolsey as he was being taken from the house by Manorville Captain Richard Berni and an Easptort firefighter. "They saw a shadow in the doorway," he said. "They pulled him out and got him on stretcher and he was taken to the hospital. He was in and out of consciousness."
The woman, Snow said, was found on a secondary search of the first floor, with the dog.
Snow said it took approximately an hour and a half to knock down the fire and firefighters were on the scene until police, the Brookhaven Town Fire Marshal's Office, and the Suffolk County arson squad took over.
There is no indication yet of what sparked the blaze, Snow said.
Snow said when he got the initial call, he recognized Woolsey's name as a "known individual" involved in former incidents. "There has been a history of problems there," he said.
"The first report that we got said that there might have been booby traps in his house," Snow said, adding that he was fearful there could have been explosives or holes in the floor.
"One of the men said they saw a shallow hole with glass covered with loose leaves outside. We marked it with a a traffic cone," he said.
The interior of the house was "pretty badly damaged," Snow said, making it difficult to determine whether any booby traps had actually been set or the report was untrue.
Snow recalled a night approximately ten years ago when he was a captain in the fire department. "We were there a few years ago and the guy met us with a gun at the gate," he said. "He was a known individual. We didn't go on that property without the police department there."
Suffolk County police said that a member of the Manorville Fire Department told media at the scene the story regarding a previous incident on the property involving the man, a gun and a fire. The police were not involved in that incident, police said.
When Suffolk Police Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick spoke at the scene of the fire Wednesday, he was asked about weapons on the property at the time of the blaze. Fitzpatrick said police hadn't yet been able to process the scene, a public information officer for the Suffolk County police department said.
Snow added, "When I got the call, the first thing I asked is if the police were on the scene. I'm not putting my guys in jeopardy if we have an unknown individual who hasn't been stable in the past. Bad stuff happens to firemen -- and we are all volunteers - and my job is to make sure everyone goes home safely."
The fire, Snow said, was unusual in that "there was an awful lot of fire on arrival. That's rare during the day." Normally during daylight hours so many calls come in that the fire does not spread so quickly. "It really raises eyebrows," he said.
The Suffolk County Arson Squad is investigating; part of the investigation will include whether accelerants could have been used, Snow said.
Mutual aid included East Moriches, Center Moriches, Eastport, Riverhead, Ridge, and Quogue Fire Departments, Snow said, with Mastic firefighters standing by at the Manorville firehouse.
"We had a lot of fire. The guys did a great job of knocking it down," he said.
Describing the incident, Snow said it "was bizarre."
In another twist, Woolsey, according to Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, had been due in court on Wednesday, the same day as the fire, after being served with an eviction notice.
According to Baird-Streeter, Woolsey owed $276,842 in back taxes; the county seized the property and took ownership in 2010, she said, after he failed to pay taxes since 2005.
"He was given numerous opportunities," Baird-Streeter said, to save his property, incuding a reminder redemption letter.
Woolsey, she said, submitted a redemption application and entered into a license agreement that would allow him to pay a monthly cost to stay in his home because he'd indicated that he was going to bankruptcy court.
"He didn't make good on that," she said.
Next, the county tried to serve Woolsey with a ten-day notice to vacate the property in November but the processor was unable to access the house because of the locked gate.
A notice of petition was sent, with proceedings to verify the petition originally scheduled for Feb. 20.; Woolsey, she said,appeared in court and asked for a two-week adjournment to March 6. Again, Woolsey appeared in court and asked for an adjournment to March 13 -- the day of the fire.
Woolsey, she said, never appeared in court due to the fire.
The property was set to be sold at auction later this year, Baird-Streeter said.
Numerous media photos of the home showed the words "We will not submit" to the threat, painted on the roof of the house.
According to a Newsday report, Woolsey filed for bankruptcy in May 2011, according to court records. In October 2011, he filed a federal suit against Suffolk County, asking for $2 million in losses and $5 million in punitive damages, the Newsday article stated.
On Feb. 28, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Brown issued a recommendation to dismiss the case, calling it "preposterous." Woolsey had until this week to file objections, Newday said.
The pending suit, according to Newsday, accused police and others of trying to suppress his vineyard operation, "Atlantic Vineyards" and described efforts to photograph vandalism, ward off animals with a propane cannon and a shotgun, and to record trespassing with security cameras.
Baird-Streeter said the county tried to work with Woolsey. "It's been since 2005," she said. "The county is more than willing to work with people to be able to redeem their property. But it's 2013. He received an eviction notice at the end of 2012."
One neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said Woolsey was "eccentric," and had been seen with videocameras, taping neighbors, and had an air cannon.
The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information on the incident is asked to call Suffolk County homicide squad detectives at 631-852-6392.