EASTBROOK – State police have confirmed that a third person was spending the night at the local fire chief’s mobile home when it went up in flames last weekend, critically injuring the chief and killing his 13-year-old son.
Police say they have interviewed the woman but declined to identify her or indicate whether she might know how the fire started.
Rick McNeil, Eastbrook’s fire chief, remains in a medically induced coma at Maine Medical Center in Portland. His son, 13-year-old Tommy McNeil, died in the flames Saturday morning.
“There were three people in the trailer the night of the fire,” said Sgt. Troy Gardiner of the Maine State Police.
Gardiner referred to the person as a woman and said she had been interviewed by officials, but because of the ongoing investigation, he declined to identify her. He also declined to say whether investigators believe the fire was suspicious or what kind of role the woman might have in the case, such as a witness or as a person of interest.
“The cause of the fire is still under investigation at this time,” he said Tuesday.
Gardiner said the woman was not injured in the blaze.
“Not that we’re aware of,” he said.
Police have been unable to interview the injured fire chief since he was rescued from the fire.
“We’re hoping to be able to talk to him at some point,” Gardiner said.
McNeil’s other son, Richard, 14, was spending the night at his grandmother’s house next door on Abbott Lane when the fire occurred, according to McNeil’s family.
One of McNeil’s half brothers, Jim Edgerly, acknowledged Tuesday that a woman friend of McNeil’s was spending the night at McNeil’s home when the fire broke out. The woman, who he said is not romantically involved with McNeil, went across the road to the home of another relative of McNeil’s who lives nearby to wake him up and alert him about the 5 a.m. fire, he said.
Edgerly, who is Eastbrook’s assistant fire chief, said that since the fire occurred the woman has not returned to Abbott Lane to speak with any of McNeil’s relatives. He and his wife, Tammy Edgerly, each declined to publicly identify the woman or comment further about her because of the police investigation.
Though conscious and alert immediately after being pulled from the burning trailer, McNeil suffered smoke inhalation and burns to his arms, head and back – injuries that turned out to be worse than originally believed, according to Jim Edgerly. He said he spoke to McNeil’s nurse Tuesday morning and was told that McNeil continues to improve, even though he still is listed in critical condition.
“He’s not going to need any skin grafts at all,” Edgerly said.
McNeil’s family said they hope he can return home in May or June.
The relative who rescued McNeil from the flames, his other half brother, Paul Edgerly, has described how he crawled into the burning trailer and struggled to pull McNeil away from the flames. The fire was too intense for him to make it down the hall to Tommy’s room, Paul Edgerly has said.
Tammy Edgerly said Tuesday that her dog woke her up early the day of the fire to go outside. When she let the dog out she realized McNeil’s mobile home was burning. She woke her husband, who sped off in his vehicle to the fire station more than a mile away to get a firetruck.
The fire spread quickly, according to Jim Edgerly. As he drove by the mobile home on his way to the fire station, he could see fire spreading inside the living room area. When he returned with the pumper truck less than five minutes later, the trailer was engulfed in flames, he said.
The Edgerlys both said smoke detectors in the trailer were going off as people tried to douse the flames. Tommy McNeil, they said, was on medication to address his attention deficit disorder.
“The medication Tommy was on, he could sleep through anything,” Tammy said.
Jim Edgerly said that people and area businesses are making donations to help out McNeil. City Line Sand & Gravel has agreed to clean up the fire site free of charge and EBS Building Supplies and Gilman Electric each are donating materials for restoring the property, he said.
“Everyone has been trying to help,” he said.
Joanne Sargent, sales manager at Sargent’s Manufactured Homes in Ellsworth, confirmed Tuesday that the company plans to donate a trailer to McNeil so he has a place to come home to.
“It shook every one of us,” Sargent said of the fatal fire. “We’re doing it because [McNeil’s] family is in desperate need.”