Guilty plea in Salem house explosion
FORT EDWARD, N.Y. -- A man accused of negligently killing six people in 2011 after a dispute with his landlord pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in the explosion but did not admit guilt in the case.
Steve McComsey, 34 of North Creek, pleaded guilty Thursday to criminally negligent homicide, a felony. He is expected to be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in state prison -- a far cry from the potential 15-year sentences he faced for each of the six counts of manslaughter he was initially indicted on in June.
Washington County District Attorney Kevin C. Kortright said he was satisfied with the outcome because, while he said prosecutors had circumstantial evidence, they also had "proof issues."
"The scene was totally leveled. It looked like a war zone. There was not one cinder block left above ground," Kortright said. "All of the proof is gone. All of the witnesses are gone. Most of the people who would have testified are dead."
By agreeing to an Alford Plea, McComsey accepts that prosecutors have a strong enough case to convict him, but he is not required to admit he is guilty of the crime. It is similar to pleading "no contest."
Prosecutors say McComsey was in a dispute with his landlords, Lynda and David Baldwin, and was being evicted from the rental home at 4383 Route 29 in Salem. Kortright said McComsey had paid for propane to heat the house and "claimed he should be able to take the gas with him."
When the dispute escalated, McComsey allegedly let gas leak out of the tank so his landlord could not have it either. It filled the basement of the house and at about noon on a bright summer day, July 13, a spark from a water heater ignited the gas while 11 people were in or around the house, including McComsey.
The blast killed three people immediately. Three more died in the days and weeks following the explosion, which leveled the house to its foundation and sent debris hundreds of feet in every direction.
Among those killed were McComsey’s 16-year-old nephew, Robert Sanford; Tammy Palmer, McComsey’s fiancée; her son, Lawrence Berg Jr., and his girlfriend, Clarissa Porlier, both 19; Darrell Durham, 20; and his 2-month-old daughter, Niah Lynn Durham. McComsey is expected to be sentenced Dec. 13 at 2 p.m.
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