POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) — A cigarette discarded in a stuffed chair touched off a fire that killed four people at a New Jersey shore motel last week, authorities said Monday.
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said the cigarette was discarded carelessly in the designated second-floor smoking area at the Mariner's Cove Motor Inn, where guests included some people who were previously displaced by Superstorm Sandy.
The prosecutor did not immediately say whether authorities know who discarded the cigarette or whether it was one of those killed or injured in the fire. The second floor, built mostly of wood, suffered the heaviest damage in the early-morning blaze, which was fanned by a strong wind.
"This is only the beginning of an intensive investigation aimed at answering the many questions surrounding all the circumstances that contributed to the tragic deaths, injuries and loss of property," Coronato said.
He said the investigation was aided by video recovered from the Point Pleasant Beach motel's heavily damaged surveillance system. Investigators also relied upon pre- and post-fire photos and interviews with guests and motel management.
Coronato identified the victims as 45-year-old John Alberti, of Keansburg; 20-year-old Paulo Martins, of South River; 52-year-old Harold Ford, of Neptune; and 66-year-old Albert Sutton, of Mount Laurel. Autopsies by the Ocean County medical examiner's office determined that all four died from smoke inhalation.
Eight other people were injured in the fire. They include Keri Anderson, 42, of Keansburg, who had sought refuge in a shower with the water running while waiting to be rescued. Firefighters rescued her from a bathroom in the rear of the motel after dousing flames over her head and helping her down a ladder. She remained in critical condition in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center.
Also in that hospital's burn unit was Melanie Deieso, whose hometown was not available. The 22-year-old suffered second-degree burns to her legs.
The investigation also was expected to look into whether the motel had smoke detectors or alarms and whether they were working. Survivors gave conflicting accounts to The Associated Press on Friday of whether they heard alarms when the fire broke out.
The motel is a popular summer family vacation spot two blocks from the beach. But in the slower winter months, it, like the other dozen or so motels in Point Pleasant Beach, relies on people seeking low-cost rental units.
James Giannuzzi had been staying at the motel as part of his temporary living arrangements since Sandy hit on Oct. 29, 2012, and flooded his Point Pleasant Beach apartment. After staying with a sister for a while, he rented a room at the motel during the winter.
He estimated that of the 40 people staying at the motel when the fire broke out, slightly more than half were either displaced Sandy victims or contractors drawn to the area by the region's bustling post-storm construction industry.
The surviving fire victims have been given temporary shelter in nearby motels.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC