Cause of deadly El Prado house fire ‘suspicious’

Victim’s manner of death ‘undetermined’

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 9/3/19

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator confirmed this month that Dr. Jon Young, an 80-year-old archaeologist who lived in El Prado, died in a fire that consumed his home in January, but …

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Cause of deadly El Prado house fire ‘suspicious’

Victim’s manner of death ‘undetermined’

Posted

The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator confirmed this month that Dr. Jon Young, an 80-year-old archaeologist who lived in El Prado, died in a fire that consumed his home in January, but the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office has classified the cause of the fire as “suspicious,” leaving a question as to Young’s manner of death.

State fire investigator Jimmy Vigil found Young’s charred remains in the pantry area of the burned home the morning after Taos County firefighters worked for hours to control the blaze on Jan. 7. Young’s black Suburban was parked in the driveway of the home and a door to his double-car garage was open when first responders arrived to find smoke and flames pouring from the home. Young lived alone, according to his family.

Examining Young’s body, Vigil said they noted a circular hole resembling a bullet entry wound in the side of Young’s head, one of the first signs, he said, that raised his suspicions that the deadly fire might not have been an accident.

One of Young’s relatives also contacted Taos News after learning about the wound to say that they, too, suspected another person might have been involved in Young’s death.

Dr. Lori Proe, an investigator with OMI, delayed releasing an official autopsy report for months as she and a team of pathologists looked into what caused the curious injury.

“Examination of the skull revealed a semicircular defect, suspicious for a gunshot wound, of the left side of the head,” she wrote.

Seeking an answer, a forensic pathologist worked for several months to reconstruct Young’s skull, which had broken into pieces from the intense heat of the fire. But they ultimately found that the “defect was caused by heat fracturing the skull bones and not by a projectile.” The pathologist also noted that there was no evidence of blunt trauma that might have explained the injury.

While the report concludes that Young had been burned in the fire – his body saturated with carbon monoxide and soot found in his lungs – the cause of the fire remains a question, and therefore, Young’s exact manner of death remains undetermined. Manner of death refers to how someone dies, such as by accident, suicide or homicide.

“Investigation by the fire marshal revealed no evidence of electrical issues in the home or of a natural event such as a lightning strike that could have started the fire,” reads a summary of Vigil’s findings included in the OMI report. “There did appear to be more than one separate area of origin for the fire, raising concerns that the fire may have been intentionally set.”

In Young’s pockets, investigators found a key, a pocketknife, clothing fragments and a pack of matches, but Vigil said the last item wouldn’t have been unusual for Young, who was known to light fires in a fireplace during winter months.

Unless new evidence emerges, he said the investigations by his office and with OMI into the fire and Young’s death won’t be closed any time soon.

“We still can’t confirm what happened in the moments before the fire,” he said. “This case will be open forever until we find something.”

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