Cops: Son's Flicked Cigarette Caused Sullivan Fire

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Chief Michael Johnson of the Carmel Police Department explains the cause of the fatal Sullivan Family fire; stock photo.
Chief Michael Johnson of the Carmel Police Department explains the cause of the fatal Sullivan Family fire; stock photo. Photo Credit: Jessica Glenza
The remains of the Sullivan family house at 19 Wyndham Lane, Carmel, N.Y.
The remains of the Sullivan family house at 19 Wyndham Lane, Carmel, N.Y. Photo Credit: Jessica Glenza

CARMEL, N.Y. - A cigarette flicked off the front porch of the Sullivan family home by 20-year-old Tommy Sullivan Jr. caused the fatal fire that killed all four members of his family sleeping inside, Carmel Police said Thursday.

Carmel Police said the fire was accidental and no charges will be filed.

Tommy Sullivan Jr. smoked two cigarettes on his front porch the night of the fire, said Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson. One of the cigarette butts, disposed of between 8 and 10 p.m., smoldered in a bed of mulch for several hours before igniting a plastic lattice on the side of the house. The burning lattice then caused the entire home to go up in flames, police said.

Dan Tompkins, captain of the Putnam County Fire Investigation Team, said weeks of dry weather before the fire coupled with wind that night created a "perfect storm" for the fire.

Police also said lightweight construction of the house caused the fire to spread so quickly.  It is unclear if fire detectors within the home went off, fire investigators said.

The announcement comes after five weeks of investigation by the Carmel Police Department and Putnam County Fire Investigators, aided by New York State Police.

The May 1 fire claimed the lives of Tommy Sullivan Sr. 48, his wife Donna Sullivan, 47, and daughters Meaghan, 17 and Mairead, 15.  Thomas Sullivan Jr., 20, was the only family member to escape the Carmel, N.Y. blaze and was treated for smoke inhalation that morning.

When firefighters arrived at the blaze, around 2 a.m. Tuesday, May 1, they reported finding the structure already engulfed in flames. Within minutes of the Carmel Fire Department's arrival the structure collapsed.

The fire spared nothing but the foundation of the house and a well-preserved 1977 Toyota Celica GT, with a tag reading "RUSTTANG." The intensity of the fire melted portions of the family's other cars, as well as the siding of neighboring houses.

Friends frequently described the family as civically involved and engaged in both the Larchmont and Carmel communities. Donna Sullivan worked at Arms Acres Inpatient Facility in Carmel and both girls attended Carmel High School. Teachers and friends described the girls as sweet and happy.

A fund has been set up for Tommy Sullivan Jr. Contributions can be made to The Thomas J. Sullivan Jr. fund.  P.O. Box 473, Commack, N.Y  11725.

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Comments (4)

How many cigarettes did it take to start the mulch smoldering///Hmmmm just sayin'

Lets pray for this boy and hope he receives help.

So horribly sad and totally preventable.....yet another series of deaths due to cigarettes. When are cigarettes going to be banned in the US? They kill in so many ways; if not from cancer and emphysema, then from fires. Again, so terribly sad.

I do not smoke cigarettes and never have. Not because they are bad but I could never get beyond the taste. Shortly after the states extorted billions of dollars from the tobacco companies with the private attorneys handling this for the states( they made hundreds of millions in fees) the new studies have shown that tobacco decreases the overall cost of medical care. This is because the majority of medical care is received during ones's old age. Tobacco kills you before you get old. So I say if you want to smoke great . The taxes you pay for cigarettes helps pay to run government and you will be dead before you medicare kicks in. As for the Sullivan family this is a tragedy totally separate from the health effects of cigarettes. I hope Tom Sullivan Jr. gets help in understanding his families death was not his fault.