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Palazzo questions fire report

Derek Pruitt - dpruitt@poststar.com

Florence Palazzo expresses her concerns with the investigation into the June 2010 Fort Edward fire that killed two of her children during an interview at The Post-Star in Glens Falls on Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Palazzo is questioning details in the investigation and feels more work needs to be done.

The state Attorney General’s Office recently investigated the 2010 fire in Fort Edward that claimed the lives of six children, but the agency declined to file any charges in the case.

The office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was asked last summer by the mother of two of the children who died in the blaze to review the investigation of the June 26, 2010, fire on Burgoyne Avenue.

Fort Edward Police Sgt. Justin Derway said police were recently advised that the state prosecutor’s office had concurred with the local police and fire officials’ conclusion that no criminal charges were warranted. An electrical problem was determined to be the cause of the blaze.

News of the state investigation comes as Lake George resident Florence Palazzo, mother of victims Hope Palazzo-Smith, 12, and 6-year-old MacKenzie Palazzo-Smith, continues efforts to lobby local officials to criminally charge the father of her children.

Palazzo said she recently received a 309-page report from the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control that she believes raises questions about the actions of Lewis “Carl” Smith II, the father of her two girls, and Smith’s girlfriend, Samantha Cox.

The report shows that the body of the youngest victim, 1-year-old Abbygale Smith, was found on the remnants of the couple’s bed in their first-floor bedroom.

Palazzo questioned how the couple, who had been sleeping in the bed when the fire broke out, were able to flee the home but not find the baby, and why Smith initially told investigators that the child had been in a crib.

“She was found in the same bed as them,” Palazzo said.

Derway said Smith and Cox told officers they awoke to a smoky home, and when Carl Smith opened the bedroom door, he was hit with a wall of fire. Both Smith and Cox suffered burns and smoke inhalation.

Samantha Cox had an arm in a sling from a prior injury, and Carl Smith broke a window to try to get to the other children, and it was unclear if anyone kept track of who had the baby or whether there was any discussion between them of who was taking her, Derway said.

Heavy flames prevented police and firefighters from entering the burning building minutes after the couple got out.

Palazzo provided The Post-Star with a portion of the report showing that Smith told at least one investigator the baby was in a crib when the fire broke out.

Derway and Washington County District Attorney Kevin Kortright acknowledged that the infant’s body was found on the bed, and Derway said neither Carl Smith nor Samantha Cox has been able to recount exactly what they did in the moments after discovering the home was on fire.

Palazzo said she believed the misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child was warranted, but Derway said police and prosecutors concluded there was no basis for a criminal prosecution.

State Police assisted Fort Edward Police, and the county Office of Emergency Services, county fire investigators and OFPC worked on the investigation, and discussed the evidence with Kortright’s office before deciding no charges would be filed.

“Everything we did we did as a group. All of the information was discussed and we drew our conclusions together,” Derway said.

Palazzo said the report also shows a handgun was found in the home, but Derway and Kortright said the gun was a pellet pistol.

Two glass pipes similar to those used to smoke marijuana were also found in the basement of the home, but Derway said they could not be linked to drug use nor were any criminal charges possible based on the discovery.

Four families had lived in the home in the 10 years or so before the fire, Derway said.

Derway said Palazzo called him recently looking to discuss the report, and he said he would meet with her but she has not contacted him to set up a meeting.

Kortright said Palazzo recently met with him as well, and urged him to take another look at the case. He said he reviewed the OFPC report, but did not see a basis for criminal charges.

“We looked at it again but I didn’t see anything new,” he said. “I didn’t see anything that could lead to charges. If we found something, certainly we would (file charges).”

The fire was found to have started when an electrical wire leading to a living room outlet overheated. The circuit breaker had the wrong fuse, so the breaker was not tripped when the wire overheated.

Derway said it was not determined who put the incorrect breaker on the circuit.

Palazzo, though, pointed to notes in the investigative report that indicate Smith acknowledged working on the home’s electrical system in the nine months the family lived there, although there was no statement on whether he had worked on that particular circuit.

Derway said Fort Edward Police consider the investigation open in the event new information is found that changes the conclusions drawn so far.

The lawyer who represents Smith and Cox, Michael Martin, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Lewis “Carl” Smith III, age 7; Paige Cox, 8; and Emilie Smith, 3, also died in the fire. The older children were found huddled in a second-story bedroom.

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