WHAM-TV reports that a 1978 fire that killed 10 people at the Greece, New York Holiday Inn and injured 37 others is again a very active case. Greece Police Chief Todd Baxter says he wants justice to be served.
Recently the police department searched the Greece Ridge Fire Department and the offices of Fire Chief Bud Phillips. Phillps was off duty the night of the fire. At the time he said he was driving by, saw the flames and called for help. The police chief told WHAM-TV what they found was "pretty significant" and there is now a 50/50 chance of solving the case. Click here to watch the story.
Below is some earlier news coverage about the fire investigation that includes a 1978 interview with Bud Phillips.
"I am surprised because I believe the truth is in the statements of the witnesses that night," said Greece Ridge Fire Chief Bud Phillips. "I think 35 years is a long time."
"I understand why people don't want to help people now – but as I've told all of our people: if they found themselves in the same position that they would do the exact same thing, and I would do that exact same thing today," said Phillips.
Sources tell us police took the hard drive from Chief Phillips' computer.
"The stuff they took from here I think most of the stuff they already had," said Phillips.
Phillips told us police also took the department's annual yearbook and 85th anniversary year book that has a section about the fire.
At a news conference on Monday Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering recognized his officers involved in the Christmas Eve ambush that killed West Webster Firefighters Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka and wounded Firefighters Ted Scardino and Joe Hofstetter. The officers’ stories were also shared publicly and the chief talked about William Spengler Jr’s motive.
“After his mother died in October, he was extremely upset that money was donated to the West Webster Fire Department in her memory,” said Pickering, though he added that authorities may never know what triggered Spengler’s actions on Christmas Eve.
Spengler, armed with three guns and more than 400 rounds of ammunition, fired 58 shots in total. But once Reed returned fire, Spengler was left with three options, said Pickering: He could either be apprehended by police, die in a shootout, or take his own life.
Spengler chose the latter option, running about 200 or 300 feet west along a berm by Lake Ontario before heading towards the rocks and shooting himself.
“He never expected police to return fire,” said Pickering.
It was Webster Police Officer Mark Reed who arrived on scene before the first fire truck. Gunman William Spengler did not open fire until that fire truck arrived, and shortly after that Officer Reed returned fire with the assault rifle issued to him in his patrol car.
“He (Reed) saved I can’t tell you how many lives he probably saved because as they said this guy was prepared to keep shooting,” Sgt. Hall said of Reed’s actions. “(We) probably would’ve lost a lot more fireman and then the policemen responding to help the firemen, if we didn’t have the advantage that Mark Reed gave us. We probably would’ve lost some of ours. So he saved a lot of lives.”
Sgt. Kevin Hall, Webster Police Department, said, “You can only imagine the chaos there between the fire and you’re hearing shots, and there are fire personnel on the ground, the fire truck is crashed into the side of the road. It was just absolute chaos.”
When Sergeant Hall arrived to the scene on Lake Road Christmas Eve morning, his colleague, Mark Reed, was already there, shooting at William Spengler.
Sgt. Hall said, “You are surrounded by water. It’s very dark, very cold windy. There was a fireman down and I thought I had an opportunity that while Officer Reed and the suspect were engaged with each other I’d have an opportunity to sneak it and retrieve the fireman.”
That downed firefighter would end up being 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka. So Hall grabbed his ballistic shield from his car to try and help the firefighter.
Sgt. Hall said, “I thought that he was initially just laying on the ground kind of covering himself from the shots fired. So I thought when I ran up I would just pat him on the back and say lets get out of here an he’d get up and we’d run away. As soon as I put my hand on him I realized that it was gonna happen.”
Sgt. Hall said, “I realized that I couldn’t help him and I was in a very bad position to begin with and that’s when I retreated back to the vehicle and retrieved my weapon.”
Dawn Nguyen, of Greece, faces a federal charge of knowingly making a false statement, U.S. Attorney William Hochul said. She also was charged with a state count of filing a falsified business record, State Police Senior Investigator James Sewell said.
Sewell said the charges are connected to the purchase of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun that William Spengler had with him Monday when firefighters Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka were gunned down. Three other people were wounded before the 62-year-old Spengler killed himself. He also had a .38-caliber revolver, but Nguyen is not connected to that gun, Sewell said.
Hochul said Nguyen bought the guns on June 6, 2010, on behalf of Spengler, who as a convicted felon was barred from possessing weapons.
Spengler was with Nguyen, a former Lake Road neighbor, when the weapons were purchased at the Gander Mountain sporting goods store in Henrietta on June 7, 2010, Hochul said. The rambling letter Spengler left behind, which Hochul described as a “suicide note,” informed authorities that the guns had come from the daughter of a neighbor.
Hochul and others at the afternoon news conference described Nguyen’s alleged actions as a “straw purchase,” in which one person intentionally and knowingly buys guns for another. Spengler could not legally own or purchase guns because of a felony conviction: he bludgeoned his grandmother to death in 1980.
The felony with which Nguyen is charged carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A press conference is scheduled for 4:00 PM EST today to discuss new developments in the case. News reports say a Greece, New York woman is now in custody as part of the investigation into how William Spengler Jr., a convicted felon, obtained the guns used to ambush West Webster firefighters.
Around 1:40 p.m., New York State Police, Webster Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives descended on the Alpine Road home, where Dawn Nguyen and her mother, Dawn Welsher, were staying.
Senior Investigator James Newell of the state police said Nguyen was charged with offering a false instrument for filing. He also said a federal charge is pending, though he did not specify.
“She purchased the weapons legally, and they were stolen,” Nguyen’s lawyer, Dave Palmiere, said Friday. He said Nguyen doesn’t recall whether she reported the guns stolen.
We have written about many confrontations involving people with cameras and those who don’t want them to take pictures of fires and other events. In Athens, Greece yesterday a farmer was rather militant in making his point about no pictures of a wildfire.
Greek police said Monday they are seeking a farmer who allegedly shot and injured two bystanders videoing a wildfire on the island of Crete after an argument over whether they might be better employed helping to put out the blaze.
A police statement said the two men were hospitalized with stomach and leg gunshot injuries. A woman with them was not injured.
Police said the shooting took place in the Viannos area of Crete, on a road near farmland owned by the suspect who was driving by and stopped to reprimand the three for videoing the area as it burned.
“There was a strong verbal altercation between the suspect and the trio,” a police official said, quoting testimony from the injured men and the woman. “He told them they should join the firefighting effort, and the argument became heated.”
The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said that the suspect then produced a gun from his car and shot at the two men, before speeding away.
The wildfire broke out earlier Monday, and forced the evacuation of three villages. Three firefighters were slightly injured trying to extinguish the blaze.
Fires were also raging Monday in another part of Crete, on the resort island of Rhodes — where five firefighters required treatment for heatstroke — and in northwestern Greece. Officials said inhabited areas were not immediately threatened.
Wildfires are common during Greece’s long, hot summers. In 2007, more than 60 people died in huge forest fires across southern and central Greece
The fire, which sent flames shooting 20 feet into the air, occurred just before 1:30 a.m. and heavily damaged the building in the Brittany Woods Apartments, which contained six apartments.
Despite the intense blaze at 443 Britton Road, only two residents suffered minor injuries, said Sam DeRosa, Monroe County fire coordinator. The two people injured were rescued at the scene by Barnard firefighters.