UPDATE | Attorney: Marshall Square mediation set to happen end of July

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Monday, July 18, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Mediation is set to happen July 20 and July 21 to discuss and resolve parts of the case surrounding the deadly Marshall Square Retirement Community fire.

Attorney Harry Revell said the mediation is set for Wednesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. at Fulcher Law Firm. Revell said while the case is a challenging one to resolve, they are going into it optimistically.

Defendants have filed a notice of apportionment where they intend to argue that Columbia County Fire Rescue is responsible for property damage in the Moye case. In October 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed for all the property damage lost by the people who lived at Marshall Square but it hinges on two individual residents, over 90-years-old, Charles and Margaret Moye.

Lawyers estimate just the Moye's loss is valued at $90,000 not including items that cannot be replaced. It states even though the defendants knew the Moyes were over 90 years old and used a walker, they placed them on the 3rd floor where it would be hard to evacuate.

Attorney Harry Revell said he thinks it's a harder case to make in a property case since smoke, fire, and water probably would have damaged some property anyway.

Columbia County Fire Rescue is not formally a defendant in the class action case or the case involving Rhetta Cadle's belongings. Columbia County Fire Rescue is only formally named in Dot Carpenter's wrongful death lawsuit listed under her daughter's name.

Attorney Sam Nicholson said since this is the first time the county has been implicated as a defendant in a lawsuit, referencing Dot Carpenter's suit, and firefighters are now implicated, that could complicate the mediation process. He said he hopes to get some of the cases resolved.



News 12 NBC 26 at 6 o'clock / July 1, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We're hearing from one of the attorneys for the victims in the deadly Marshall Square fire for the first time since the full report deems the fire accidental.

Earlier this week, we gave you a look at never-before-seen photos from the fire investigation, and a listen to audio recordings by firefighters and officials.

The report and the calls confirm a number of things attorney Sam Nicholson already knew about the fire, still shocking even a year later.

"This was a big fire, and somebody got killed," he said, "Another lady was stranded for seven hours."

He says the findings only go so far, and the main reason of the report: to determine criminal activity wasn't a factor.

"They just look to see what happens and what the events were, and where the cause, where the origin of the fire was. So they didn't go into the PTAC unit itself," said Nicholson.

Clear in the voices of trained firefighters in released transmissions and recordings, light smoke in the core of the building ended up being a lot worse.

"10-4. If you don't have anybody to get right now, get off that third floor," a voice radios over to firefighters in the building, minutes after the roof collapses.

"There were some things that they were supposed to do in following and keeping with proper protocol, but they did not do that. Such as a evacuate the building and make sure that everyone was out of it," said Nicholson.

His team believes the fire started due to faulty wiring of the A/C. But afterwards, more than one thing was handled incorrectly, by more than one player.

Nicholson never saw the first interviews by ATF investigators, now released inside of the report.

"They're not consistent with what they testified to in the deposition, especially Zack Freehoff," he said, "And one thing to Chris Bryde says is that he was instructed by a member of the fire department to turn off the sprinkler valves, shut off the sprinkler valve on the second floor in the stairwell."

While the case is closed by the state, some parts are still yet to be determined in the courtroom.

News 12 NBC 26 reached out to the defense team, one of whom declined comment, while another has not gotten back to us yet. We also reached out to Resort Lifestyle Communities' Chief Operations Officer Steve Mueller, who has not responded either.

Nicholson says the class action suit heads to mediation later this month.



News 12 First at Five / June 28, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- A year ago, the Marshall Square Retirement Community burned. Now, that the investigation is complete, that picture is clearer than ever.

Details are now confirmed on paper, that the alarms and sprinklers shut off, and people living there had been told to stay in their rooms. All this, while a fire blazed near the third floor billiard room, in the core of the building.

Signs of smoke lead to a call to dispatch at 3:20.

"Columbia County Fire and Rescue dispatch, this is Charlie," call recordings of a dispatcher begin.

"This is Columbia County with the transfer, it's going to be Marshall Square," said the voice on the other line.

The dispatcher turns around, sending trucks and firefighters to the scene.

Over the radio, "850 Ronald Reagan Drive...Marshall Square....on the third floor...a structure fire."

Just after four, thirty minutes after firefighters get on scene, the ceiling collapses.

"If you don't have anybody to get, get off that third floor," a voice calls out in a radio transmission - one of many transmissions investigated by officials.

In the light of day, pictures reveal remains from above. The evidence - taken by fire investigators, as they sift through rubble on three floors. Overheard, the blue sky serves as a direct contrast to all the blackened furniture, strewn throughout the charred building.

"What I was told this morning, when they went on the scene, there was light smoke showing, and when they went in the attic it was like, holy hell," officials recall the scene over phone lines.

But there's some confusion from the Marshall Square security company, calling dispatch for the first time around five a.m. The dispatcher tells the caller they've been on the scene for almost two hours. About 5 minutes later, a second call from the security company comes in.

As the day progresses, dispatchers and officials make calls and assess damage. At 2:30 in the afternoon, more than 11 hours after the initial call, there are continued questions: who made those calls first and what were they?

"Did the call actually come in as an alarm...or did it come in from an occupant, I know you've probably been asked that already," says a caller to the dispatcher on duty.

"It came from the occupant on scene," the dispatcher responds, "The alarm didn't come in until about an hour and fifteen minutes later."



News 12 NBC 26 at 11 O'Clock / June 27, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- It's the final report into the investigation surrounding the Marshall Square fire.

The fire commissioner says the trouble started in the third floor billiard room surrounding an A/C unit in the wall. Overall, 15 million dollars worth of damage with more than 19 million dollars covered by insurance.

The report also confirms, the fire alarms were turned off. Manager Chris Bryde has admitted to entering the manager's code to turn off the fire alarm, the report says Bryde did this several times. Bryde told investigators on the scene another fire fighter told him "the fire was under control and the water needed to be turned off."

We've also reported on this letter to residents, telling them they should stay in their rooms and wait for instructions, which led to more confusion. But both the manager Bryde and another co-worker say they were telling residents to evacuate, even on the third floor where the fire started.

It was later during a roll call when they discovered two residents were missing including Dot Carpenter who died in the fire.



News 12 NBC 26 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, June 23, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Columbia County Fire Rescue admitting under oath to a number of mistakes during a fire that left a 91-year-old woman dead.

Marshall Square Retirement Community went up in flames on June 2, 2015. Since then, we have uncovered concerns with parties on both sides of this, everything from shelter in place instructions to fire plans.

One of the biggest questions left in the case is why someone turned off the sprinkler system while the fire was still burning.

Attorneys say firefighters are partially to blame.

By 3:32 a.m. on June 2nd of last year, there were 14 firefighters on scene at Marshall Square. That's within two minutes of the first alarm.

According to their own training manual, "the first priority is to search the area immediately around the fire." That's what should have been done.

Chief Jimmie Paschal with Columbia County Fire Rescue admits that in his deposition.

Attorney Robin Braithwaite asks him "So from 3:32 to 3:54, would there be any reason the primary search could not be conducted on the third floor core?"

Chief Paschal replies, "Should have been started, yes."

Braithwaite then asks, "And you would agree with me wouldn't you that the first apartments that they should have looked at would have been Dot Carpenter's and Rhetta Cadle due to the proximity of those two units to the billiard room?"

Paschal says, "Under normal circumstances, yes."

But, the fire department says these were not normal circumstances because Marshall Square employees had told residents to stay in their rooms in the case of a fire, so firefighters had a building full of people to evacuate first.

"The last thing they were expecting to see when they arrived was a building full of people," plaintiffs' attorney Harry Revell said.

At 3:54 a.m., 24 minutes after the first alarm, crews finally find flames hiding in the wall. This is ten minutes after someone turns off the sprinkler system.

Live-in manager Chris Bryde has already admitted to turning them off, but he says the fire department told him to.

Fire Rescue Chief Danny Kuhlmann was in the control room with Bryde and says that's completely untrue, but the audio recording from radios firefighters were wearing that morning suggests otherwise.

In the audio from the radio you can hear someone say, "We need to shut down the sprinkler system as soon as we can."

When asked under oath "whose voice that is?" Chief Paschal says "That's Chief Kuhlmann."

"We do know for certain the sprinklers were turned off at about 3:44 a.m., and we know for certain that was absolutely uncalled for and a total and complete violation of policy and procedure to do that in an active fire," Revell said.

At 4:04 a.m., the roof collapses, but it's not until then that firefighters go searching for Dot Carpenter and Rhetta Cadle in their rooms. By then, the way was blocked.

"Literally firefighters were within paces of Dot Carpenter's apartment, literally two doors away for 20-25 minutes and they simply failed to clear her apartment," Revell said.

In the depositions, attorneys asked fire supervisors if anyone had been disciplined for anything done or not done on the day of the fire. The answer was no.

They also asked if fire rescue discussed if there should have been a more "prompt primary search" done as soon as they arrived. Again, they answered no.

Next month attorneys on both sides will get together for mediation to try to settle at least parts of this case.


Friday, June 17, 2016

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Attorneys have said firefighters are partially to blame for the death of a woman at the Marshall Square Retirement Community in June 2015.

One of the biggest conflicts in testimony is who turned off the sprinkler system while the fire was still burning, according to the deposition detailing what firefighters said under oath.

Crews arrived on scene of the deadly fire at 3:30 a.m. but at first all they saw was smoke. The fire report states flames were confirmed around 3:54 a.m.

Depositions of men who were in the building at the time show there were evacuations going on since most of the residents were still inside. Marshall Square's Fire Policy that was sent out in December 2014 states residents should stay in their rooms. Documents show there was no official room-by-room search done that morning.

"There was a window of time about 25 minutes before the site became unsafe for firefighters," Attorney Harry Revell said, "literally firefighters were within paces of Dot Carpenter's apartment, literally two doors away for about 20 to 25 minutes and they simply failed to clear her apartment."

The alarm report states at some point, the sprinklers were turned off. Marshall Square's live-in manager, Chris Bryde admitted he turned them off but said firefighters told him to. Columbia County Fire and Rescue Chief Danny Kuhlmann was in the control room with Bryde and said that's completely untrue.

In his deposition Kuhlmann states "You're not gonna turn off the sprinkler system. It's just something we're not gonna do."

"What we know about that is a conflict of testimony Mr. Bryde did testify that he did do it, he was instructed to do it by the fire department, but yet we have radio transmissions that suggest they were there at the sprinkler system that they were concerned and wanted to turn the sprinklers off as soon as possible," Revell said.

The lawsuit believes firefighters really underestimated how bad the fire was since it was hiding in the attic.

Attorneys have said coincidentally someone was turning the sprinklers off at almost the same time firefighters on the third floor broke through the wall and found flames.

The mediation is scheduled for July 20 or July 21, 2016. A defense attorney in the case has tried to say some of his counsel was not available to attend the mediatio but the judge ordered it to continue forward on those dates. At this mediation, they will look for a 'global resolution'.

Attorney Sam Nicholson said since this is the first time the county has been implicated as a defendant in a lawsuit, referencing Dot Carpenter's suit, and firefighters are now implicated, that could complicate the mediation process. He said he hopes to get some of the cases resolved.