By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO July 8, 2005 After about a week of massive investigations by multiple agencies, officials have concluded that a fire was intentionally set in the office of Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur at the Sullivan County Government Center in Monticello.
Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen detailed on Tuesday how investigators ruled out causes such as electric malfunctions or any other accidental possibilities.
The fire began shortly after 8 p.m. on June 23, just a few hours after an all-day hearing involving alleged corruption amongst Sullivan County Department of Public Works senior officials.
Yasgur left his office at 7:30 p.m., and his door was left unlocked in order for his room to be cleaned by one of the seven janitors in the building. (The cleaning employees are not a target of the investigation at this point.)
Two of the entrances were left open to the Government Center as usual. One Sullivan County Sheriffs Deputy stayed inside until 8 p.m., said Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue.
The investigation initially included the Sullivan County DAs office, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Monticello Fire Department, Sullivan County Sheriffs Department, New York State Police, Sullivan County Arson Task Force and Sullivan County Bureau of Fire.
It is now being led by Lungens office, the Sheriffs Department, and the New York State Police.
Lungen said that arson cases are among the hardest to solve.
Officials were tight-lipped when it came to discussing the specific nature of their investigation or any leads they might have. They would not comment on an accelerant that was found at the scene.
A few people, aside from those documented as working there, have been interviewed in the last couple of days.
The fire began in the personal office of Yasgur and then spread to the rest of the attorneys main office. It then burned through the auditors office and the office of Richard Martinkovic, who is the countys emergency coordinator and commissioner of Public Safety. Martinkovic has temporarily moved his office inside the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Yasgurs personal office suffered the worst damage. Everything in there was consumed by fire and believed to be lost. Lungen said the concrete floor and ceiling turned the room into an oven.
Assistant county attorneys Cheryl McCausland and Lynda Levine also suffered damage to their offices.
They said they lost files, furniture, computers, some books from the law library, and personal belongings such as briefcases, shoes and family pictures. Levine lost her framed degrees.
McCausland said the files related to the Emerald Corporate Park and the Sullivan County Landfill but believed there were back-up copies of most documents amongst other officials. The lost files will cause her some inconveniences when she attempts to locate documents in the future.
The reality of the loss will come in waves, she said. It could have been worse.
But what hurts McCausland the most are the loss of personal effects.
All the pictures my kids drew for me made me cry, she said. You can get documents copied. What my kids made for me, I cant redo. Im very grateful nobody got hurt.
The Government Center re-opened on Tuesday, and the two assistant attorneys are presently using the legislative meeting room until their offices are completely cleaned and repaired. Martinkovic said that could be as late as November.
McCausland said there is a slight lack of privacy, but they can meet in the private office of Yasgur, which is now located in the office headquarters near the county managers office and office of the commissioner of Financial Management.
McCausland said she doesnt expect the fire to impact some of the major cases currently facing the attorneys including the issues conference on the landfill, scheduled for August 2 and 3 (a conference call with the judge is scheduled for July 18).
The DPW hearing itself will continue on Friday, July 15 at 9 a.m. in the Lawrence Cooke Courthouse in Monticello, due to the water damage at the Sullivan County Legislative Hearing Room. Former DPW Commissioner Peter Lilholt is expected to once again take the stand. Sullivan County Legislator Kathleen LaBuda is also expected to testify, but it is not known if she will testify on that date.
Legislators will be holding their regular meetings in the caucus room at the legislative offices. No location was chosen as of Wednesday regarding where they will hold their monthly meetings of the full legislature which is normally held in the legislative hearing room.