- Grove City, Pennsylvania

August 28, 2013

Chief: Fatal fire more tragic than suspicious

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — A fire that took the lives of two siblings on McConnell Street in June is expected to be deemed undetermined, according to Grove City's chief of police.

Chief Dean Osborne spoke after Monday's borough council meeting about the tragic blaze that took the lives of Brandon Lee Fortuna, 28, and his sister Kirsten Lynn Fellows, 43, at Fortuna's home on 432 McConnell St.

"There's nothing at this point to make us think it's suspicious," Osborne said of the late-night fire at the house, where firefighters were called around 3:15 a.m. June 17.

Mercer County Coroner J. Bradley McGonigle III released last week a report that the siblings died of carbon monoxide toxicity and smoke inhalation.

Osborne believes the state police fire marshal, Trooper David R. Jungling Jr., "already listed 'undetermined' as the cause (of the fire) ... due to the extent of the burning," he added.

Borough police are the main investigators and "followed up on leads and calls," Osborne noted. "We had quite a few, but that's any time you have something like that."

All three parties working on the case have shared information during their investigations; borough police expect to close its case when Jungling and McGonigle send their final paperwork to police, Osborne said.

The company that insured the house has also done an investigation, he noted. "Hopefully something will happen soon with demolition," Osborne said, since the charred skeleton of the house still stands.

Authorities say Fellows' remains were found on the second floor and Fortuna's were found in the basement -- believing he fell from the second level through holes burnt in the floors from the fire.

Fellows lived in Lackawannock Township with her boyfriend, Richard McDowell, who reported that his girlfriend was helping her brother clean his McConnell home to sell.

The only survivor was Fellows' dog, Sissy, who was found in a backpack in front of the house the next day. Osborne said a neighbor called authorities after hearing barking noises, "and one of our guys dug" Sissy out of the rubble.

The chief felt the debris covering the backpack-sealed animal probably saved her life, he noted. McDowell believed his girlfriend saved her pet before returning to the burning house to help her brother escape, where they both perished.

Police don't believe there was any foul play that caused the fire, Osborne said. "To have a suspect, you have to have a crime, and there's no reason to believe accordingly. ... Nothing suspicious was found."

It's helpful to have a ruling for "closure ... but oftentimes that doesn't happen," the chief said.

"Bottom line is: It's a tragedy."

Published Aug. 21, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.