Saturday 25 October 2014

Probe into blaze at apartment hinges on gardai being able to interview survivor

Published 20/03/2014 | 02:30

Victims: Greg Lonergan (left) and Chris Palmer
Victims: Greg Lonergan (left) and Chris Palmer

A GARDA investigation into an apartment fire that claimed two lives now hinges on detectives being able to interview a survivor who lost his twin brother in the tragic blaze.

Chris Palmer (36) remains in a critical but stable condition in Cork University Hospital (CUH) after being dragged from the burning Mallow flat by two brave gardai.

His twin brother John (36) and their friend Greg Lonergan (36) died in the blaze at the Granary Court complex off St Joseph's Road last Thursday, March 13.

Chris Palmer was one of just two flat occupants to survive the blaze.

Gardai have been unable to speak to him to date because of his medical condition.

However, detectives hope Mr Palmer may have critical information about what happened after an impromptu birthday party for Mr Lonergan ended in tragedy.

Mr Lonergan, a father of one from outside the north Cork town, was to have celebrated his birthday last Friday.

However, some friends decided to stage an early party for him on Wednesday.

To date, the garda investigation into the fatal fire has been entirely based on forensic evidence from the scene.

A young woman arrested for questioning about the blaze has been released without charge.

Mallow gardai confirmed that a file on the matter would now be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The fire was initially described as accidental but gardai later said they were keeping an open mind amid mounting concern over precisely how the blaze started.

Local residents said the two gardai who risked their own lives to save the occupants of the apartment deserved awards for their bravery.

Garda Catriona O'Sullivan and Garda Liam Phillips were beaten back by heavy smoke in their brave attempts to rescue the two men trapped in the flat.

The two officers managed to force open a rear door and battled billowing smoke to make their way upstairs and drag Chris Palmer and another occupant to safety.

However, their repeated efforts to re-enter the flat were frustrated by extreme heat and thickening smoke.

Both gardai were treated for the effects of smoke inhalation at CUH.

The Palmer twins are originally from Dublin but Chris Palmer has been living in north Cork for some time.

John Palmer and Greg Lonergan had to be pulled out of the burning building by Mallow fire brigade personnel equipped with breathing apparatus.

TRANSFERRED

Both were pronounced dead before they could be transferred to hospital.

It took Mallow and Kanturk brigade units three hours to extinguish the blaze.

Supt Pat McCarthy said the direction of the investigation would be determined by the results of the forensic tests.

Complex caretaker Pat O'Regan said the entire community was deeply shocked by the tragedy, which is the third to hit the area in a matter of months.

"I was so shocked and saddened when I heard that two people had lost their lives," Mr O'Regan said.

Post-mortem examinations were carried out at CUH.

The results will not be released before a Cork coroner's inquest.

Irish Independent

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