Monday, November 4, 2013

Fire investigation leads to arrest in Racquet Club fire

Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The 15-year-old told police that he thought he was helping when he emptied the ashtray that his father used before going out without him.
Photo by Jo Ciavaglia/Courier Times
Instead, the boy, who has the mental ability of a 6-year-old, accidentally started a four-alarm fire that destroyed 43 units at the Racquet Club apartments in Middletown, displaced about 100 residents, and injured himself and his father, who is charged with endangering the welfare of a child.
On Monday, police charged Hugh McKavanagh, 59, who now lives in a Bristol Township motel, with the first-degree misdemeanor in connection with the July 26 fire at Building B in the Veterans Road complex. He was released after posting 10 percent of his $15,000 bail.
Police say that McKavanagh left his mentally challenged son, who lives with him, alone in the apartment July 26 for 45 minutes during which time the fire started.
“It’s very miraculous the boy was not injured more than he was,” Middletown Fire Marshal James McGuire said. “This was a recipe for a disaster.”
Police say that McKavanagh admitted leaving his son alone around 8:30 p.m. to go over to drink at a friend’s apartment within the complex. He told police that he could see his apartment from his friend’s home.
After about a half-hour, McKavanagh said he and his friends decided to go to Parx casino in Bensalem. While walking back to his apartment to change his clothes, McKavanagh saw the building was on fire, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
After McKavanagh couldn’t get into the building because of the smoke and flames, he and a friend coaxed the boy out onto the apartment’s second-floor balcony and convinced him to jump, according to court documents. The friend caught the boy, who suffered an arm injury and smoke inhalation.
Photo by Jo Ciavaglia/Courier Times
McKavanagh was treated at Temple University Hospital for serious burns to his feet, when he tried to enter the burning building.
A police officer who interviewed McKavanagh at the hospital the night of the fire noted the odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath and person, according to the affidavit. Hospital medical records revealed that McKavanagh told a nurse at Aria Health he was drinking earlier that night.
An emergency medical technician who treated McKavanagh at the apartment complex told police that he smelled of alcohol and was actually drinking alcohol when the rescue squad arrived to treat him. He added McKavanagh appeared intoxicated at the time, according to the affidavit.
The boy’s mother, who lives in New Jersey, told police their son had moved in with his father so he could attend a specialized school in Northeast Philadelphia. She said her son has an I.Q. of 42, considered a low-functioning cognitive range.
The mother told police her son requires “constant” supervision and “cannot be left alone,” according to the affidavit.
Photo by Jo Ciavaglia/Courier Times
At St. Mary Medical Center, where the boy was treated, a nurse told police that the boy told her that his father drank one beer and smoked a cigarette before leaving the apartment. After he left, the boy said he emptied the ashtray into the trash can to “help clean up.”
The boy’s mother told police that cleaning is one of her son’s favorite things to do.
Later the boy saw a fire in the kitchen, police said, though McGuire, the fire marshal, says his investigation found the fire did not start in the kitchen, but in a dining room/living room area.
The official cause of the fire is listed as undetermined, but nothing has been found to discredit the boy’s version of events, McGuire added.
o Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia


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