Residents recall attempted rescue of Richmond Hill explosion victim
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 15, 2015)– During a resumption of resident testimony in the Richmond Hill trial, Steve Pridemore told jurors that he was one of the first neighbors onto Fieldfare Way at the epicenter of the a fatal natural gas explosion on the night of November 10, 2012, and watched the futile attempt to save one victim.
“I could see a person in there with an arm up with blood,” said Pridemore as he recalled looking into the collapsed basement of 8355 Fieldfare Way, the home of Dion and Jennifer Longworth. “‘Gosh, he’s in there and he’s trapped,'” Pridemore remembered thinking.
“They did the best they could, the opening was so small,” Pridemore recalled as he watched Indianapolis firefighters struggle to rescue Dion amid the collapsed debris, “and one of them got in as far as his chest to pull Dion out and the fire was still going and it was prohibitive. One fireman had the legs of another firearm reaching in to get him.”
Bryan Hollingsworth said he heard a knocking on wood at the Longworth home minutes after the blast.
“‘I’m in here and I’m trapped,'” Hollingsworth told jurors Longworth called out. “‘How is my wife and are you going to be able to help me?'”
Hollingsworth said Longworth told him his wife was upstairs in a second floor bedroom.
Hollingsworth told the jury he didn’t tell Longworth there was no more upstairs to his house anymore.
Over the next four minutes Hollingsworth said he could hear Longworth rumaging through the basement but was unable to escape due to the debris.
“All I could think to say was, ‘Stay with me.'”
Hollingsworth said he spotted a growing fire behind Longworth in the basement but was told by a firefighter to leave and when he relocated to the sidewalk, “the house was entirely in flames.”
Hollingsworth said the house was eventually consumed by fire, “within seconds.”
Pridemore also said he watched the flaming home cave in on Longworth who died along with his wife.
Defense Attorney David Shircliff asked Pridemore about a stroll past the home of Monserrate Shirley one week before the blast when he reported smelling natural gas.
Pridemore said he called police after the explosion reporting that not only did he smell natural gas in the neighborhood but also spotted a white van with three people in the front yard that day.
Prosecutors claim Mark Leonard and two co-conspirators conceived of the plan to spark off the explosion that leveled girlfriend Monserrate Shirley’s house a week later and Leonard’s white van was spotted hours before the blast.
Neighbor Alex Pflanzer also identified Leonard in the courtroom and testified that he recognized the defendant’s white van as being parked outside Shirley’s house on occasion.
Vicky Koerner testified that her teenage son thought a terrorist attack was underway in their neighborhood that night, “and it was.”
Koerner told jurors that her home was eventually demolished due to the effects of the explosion that leveled the home at 8349 Fieldfare Way in an insurance fraud scheme.
“How many neighbors do you know that would risk their lives for their neighbors?” asked Koerner after she recounted her son’s attempts to rescue other residents trapped by the blast.
Dan Able lived across the street from Shirley and said as he walked his dog that morning, he noticed, “It just looked like everything was just closed up…normally there’s an appearance that somebody is around.”
Prosecutors charge Leonard and Shirley buttoned up the house and spent the weekend at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg awaiting word of the explosion.
Able testified that he would typically spot Leonard’s white van parked at the house, and while it wasn’t there that morning, he did spot the vehicle driving on Fieldfare Way minutes after returning home with his dog.
After the explosion, Able said he emerged from his own home to see Shirley’s house, “was gone,” and the Longworth home was in rubble.
As always, Leonard sat at the defense table and look impassively at the stack of photographs prosecutors placed into evidence portraying the damage to the home of his former neighbor.
Able said his insurance company paid $220,000 for the loss of his home, then pointed out Leonard, “wearing a red tie and white shirt,” as the man he recognized associated with the white van.
Able also testified that he saw Shirley interviewed on television after the blast.
Attorneys for the accused Richmond Hill lead co-conspirator asked for and were denied a postponement or continuation of the trial.
Leonard is accused of leading the plot that destroyed his girlfriend’s home in the Richmond Hill community on Indianapolis’ south side damaging or leveling 80 other houses at a loss of more than $4 million and killing two neighbors.
Defense Attorney Diane Black told Judge John Marnocha in St. Joseph Superior Court that she had just learned that a key prosecution witness had discovered an error in his calculations about the amount of natural gas that was introduced into Monserrate Shirley’s house in the hours leading up to the explosion.
Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson told the Court that Dr. David Sheppard of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms determined that his error would change his testimony regarding the amount of the fuel source that was set off, according to the State’s theory, by a timer on a microwave oven.
Robinson said Sheppard made an effort in his gas flow calculations, but those changes should not affect the computer model his testimony will be based on, though the defense disagreed.
“This evidence is crucial to the whole case,” argued Black. “It’s about gas flow rates, it’s crucial evidence to their case and our defense.”
Black asked for a postponement or continuation but that motion, claiming that her cross examination of witnesses was based on the original Sheppard calculations, but that motion was denied by Judge Marnocha.
The judge also ruled against the Defense practice of asking witnesses their opinions of Shirley’s Plea Agreement with prosecutors and their assessments the validity of her statements in a FOX59 interview that she was a victim along with the neighbors she is accused of leaving homeless by the explosive insurance fraud scheme.
Judge Marnocha did side with the Defense, however, saying he is inclined to not permit into evidence a phone call Dion Longworth to a home security dispatcher advising that he was trapped in his burning house, though a final decision on that evidence is pending.