Subscribe for 33¢ / day

FORT EDWARD -- Alicia Berg wept inconsolably, mourning the death of her loved ones in a July 2011 Salem house explosion, as she vented about the man who killed them.

“I want her back so bad,” the 22-year-old said of her mother, Tammy Palmer. “It’s not fair.”

Berg also lost her boyfriend, her brother and her infant daughter in the blast.

Berg spent nearly three months in Albany Medical Center, recovering from her own injuries suffered in the explosion. On Thursday, she was among more than two dozen loved ones of the six people killed in the blast who attended the sentencing of the man convicted of causing it, Steven McComsey.

Tears flowed and anger rose when McComsey offered no statement or apology before being taken away to begin a 1- to 3-year state prison sentence.

That McComsey made no admissions weighed on relatives of the victims, some of whom said their emotions were still raw, despite the conviction.

“Did he do it, or is he just accepting responsibility?” asked Kimberly Ryan, Palmer’s sister. “We didn’t get any closure today. He didn’t turn around and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

The July 13, 2011, explosion that destroyed the home at 4383 Route 29 in Salem, killed Palmer, 41; Clarissa Porlier, 19; Darrell Durham, 20; Durham’s 2-month-old daughter, Niah Lynn Durham; Lawrence Berg II, 19; and Robert Sanford Jr., 16.

McComsey entered a so-called Alford plea to criminally negligent homicide last month, a plea that does not require an admission of guilt but is considered a conviction.

He had been indicted on six charges of second-degree manslaughter for releasing propane gas from a tank into the home, resulting in the explosion after a water pump kicked on and produced a spark.

The blast leveled the house and damaged a neighboring home.

Authorities believe he tampered with the tank to cause trouble for the rental home’s owner, who was evicting McComsey and his live-in girlfriend, Palmer.

A case that hinged on circumstantial evidence resulted in mid-level homicide charges that accused McComsey, 34, of acting recklessly but not intentionally harming anyone.

That did not spare him from the anger of those mourning the victims, some of whom said they initially did not believe he was responsible but changed their opinions after meeting with prosecutors and State Police as the case progressed.

Linda Porlier, Clarissa Porlier’s mother, told Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan she has struggled with the loss and is trying to find something positive in the tragedy.

The only positive thing she could come up with was that her daughter did not suffer.

With a tattoo of her daughter’s face on her right shoulder, she talked of Clarissa’s aspirations to become a pastry chef and their dream of opening a bakery together.

“In one fell swoop, I lost my daughter, best friend and business partner,” she said.

After the sentencing, she said, “He’s accepted no responsibility for anything he’s done.” But, she added, “Some consequence is better than none.”

Wayne “Butch” Hurlburt, Palmer’s uncle, said he believed prosecutors “did the best they could have done” and said state laws need to be toughened.

“This guy killed six kids, and he gets one to three,” he said. “Right here, the victims aren’t served.”

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said his office worked with the evidence that was available but was hindered by state laws regarding “depraved indifference to human life” that made criminally negligent homicide, the state’s least-weighty homicide charge, the only viable charge.

Recent court decisions have severely undermined the law, he said.

“The police and fire investigators did an amazing job, but the state has to change the law because it’s hindering every DA in the state,” Kortright said.

McComsey will have to serve at least a year in custody, and will get credit for the nearly six months he has already spent in Washington County Jail. He will be eligible for parole at the one-year mark.


Load comments