I-Team: Falsified inspection by state fire marshal investigator? - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

I-team: Falsified inspection by a state fire marshal investigator?

Not a cloud in the sky as the waves crash on the beach in Grand Isle. Just feet away, crews are demolishing what once used to be a motel that caught fire killing two people on Sept. 26, 2012.

Grand Isle Fire Chief Aubrey Chaisson was on duty that night.

"We had flames rolling out the building and they telling us they got people trapped inside," Chief Chaisson said.

The motel, that fire and now a former State Fire Marshal investigator, are the subjects of an investigation by the State Inspector General's Office.

Milton Bourgeois owns a rental property in Grand Isle next to the burned out Rusty Pelican Motel. He said following Hurricane Katrina, conditions at the Rusty Pelican steadily declined. Not only did Bourgeois call it a health hazard, he also said it was a fire hazard.

It's why he sent a letter to the State Fire Marshal's Office in Baton Rouge on March 20, 2012, six months prior to the deadly fire.

In the letter, he wrote, "Please allow this to serve as an official complaint relative to an extreme severe fire hazard that now exists at an extremely rundown motel knows as the "Rusty Pelican."

He went on stressing the urgency, "Sir, I cannot overly stress the deplorable condition of this very "run down" former motel."

That prompted an email to a State Fire Marshal Investigator, Nunzio Marchiafava, from his supervisor asking him to initiate an investigation within the next few days.

Marchiafava's daily activity report dated April 2, 2012 showed a visit to the Rusty Pelican in Grand Isle from his office in New Orleans. But documents obtained by the I-team show Marchiafava claiming because the owner was not there, he was not able to get on property. Plus, he needed to meet with some Jefferson Parish officials so a follow-up visit was scheduled.

The question is whether the investigator actually came out to the motel in Grand Isle for a follow-up visit in May. Even though he claims he did, documents and cell phone records show otherwise.

Marchiafava sent his supervisor an email regarding that follow-up visit on Sept. 27th, the day after the fire. He called it a "special report" regarding his May 25th visit. In it, he said he "could not locate anyone in the building and that the office was closed and contained storage."

Marchiafava's daily report from May 25th shows a trip to the Rusty Pelican in Grand Isle, a trip that raised questions with investigators. They took a look at the total mileage from his odometer that day: 180 miles. In Google Maps, they typed in Marchiafava's address in New Orleans and that of the motel in Grand Isle. One way is more than 100 miles meaning a round trip is at least 200 miles.

They checked his cell phone records documents state "On May 25, 2012, Nunzio Marchiafava's cell phone did not connect to cell phone towers in Grand Isle but connected with towers in the New Orleans metro area."

"There was a second visit that was documented and that we reported in our press release. At this time, we're unsure of that second visit," Brant Thompson, deputy chief at the State Fire Marshal's office, said.

Bourgeois blames the deadly fire on the lack of proper inspection by the Fire Marshal's office.

"If they would have properly done their job, they would have closed this place down. If they would have closed it down, these two people wouldn't be dead," Bourgeois said.

Thompson said the fire didn't start on its own.

"We were able to eliminate any faulty electrical wiring or any other life safety issue that would be of concern to us," said Thompson.

For investigators, the major question remains: Did Marchiafava make that follow-up visit in May.

Marchiafava has since retired from the State Fire Marshal's Office. Meanwhile, the Inspector General's investigation into Marchiafava is ongoing.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All Rights Reserved

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