Richmond Hill resident says blast ‘felt like the end of the world’
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (June 16, 2015) — Jurors in the Richmond Hill murder trial of Mark Leonard heard an Indianapolis firefighter describe some of the last words of neighbor Dion Longworth before his flaming home crashed in around him on November 10, 2012.
“‘Its so hot. Its so hot,'” Pvt. Richard Shirven told juors he heard Longworth say. “‘Please get me out.'”
“He was trapped like in a window well. I went in and I could see him through this little hole of wood and debris.”
“It was a very hot, very fast moving fire,” testified Shirven. “He was trapped in almost like a little hole. I grasped his hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm. He was very mobile. I brought him out under the beam and closer to me…but it was a very fast moving fire, very intense.”
Shirven said Longworth had two floors and the roof of the home collapsed down upon him and that debris made it impossible for firefighters to pull the doomed man from the flaming basement.
“Did it become obvious to you that you were out of time?” Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson asked.
“Yes,” said Shirven. “After seven or eight minutes Lt. Teagarden told me we had to move back.
“By that time the area he was sitting was engulfed and he was gone,” said Shirven. “It was a matter of only a minute or so when we pulled out that he was gone.”
Shirven said that he was later called back to 8355 Fieldfare Way as the part of the recovery team to look for Longworth’s body days later but when the victim’s remains were discovered, the firefighter excused himself from the immediate scene.
“I had my hands on him and it was kind of a personal thing,” he said.
Shirven was proceeded to the witness stand by Lt. Dean Teagarden of IFD who testified that he spotted a “mushroom cloud” rising above Richmond Hill that night after he was jarred at a nearby fire station by the explosion.
Teagarden said he ran to the back of 8355 Fieldfare Way and also spotted Dion Longworth trapped in debris as his house fell down around him, “like in a box.”
Longworth could move side-to-side but could not escape his entombment, said Teagarden.
“It continued to get worse,” he testified. “The fire continued to spread.”
Jurors also heard from Dion’s mother, Elaine Sgorcea, and Nancy Buxton, the mother of Jennifer Longworth, about how they learned of the deaths of their children.
Their recollections capped the morning session of testimony as defendant Mark Leonard, flanked by his attorneys, spent another day getting a close up look at the damage his handiwork wrought to the southside Indianapolis neighborhood in the fall of 2012.
Leonard is accused of setting off the conspiracy that led to a fatal natural gas explosion that leveled the home of his girlfriend Monserrate Shirley, damaged or destroyed the homes of 80 neighbors and killed two people next door all in pursuit of an insurance fraud scheme that even his own attorney has called “stupid and selfish.”
For the fifth day in a row, Richmond Hill residents, present and past, testified about the damages to their homes and lives on the night of November 10, 2012.
With each witness comes a handful of 8″ x 10″ color photographs detailing the devastation done to his or her property, and those pictures are always passed to the Defense table for approval of Leonard and his lawyers before St. Joseph Superior Judge John Marnocha permits them into the trial record as evidence.
Leonard sits, elbow resting on his chair, his left hand extended along the side of his face, never reacting or registering acknowledgment of the evidence displayed before him.
Neighbor Patrick Crosley told the Court he attended a meeting at a church of the Richmond Hill neighbors a couple days after the blast and his wife noticed Shirley, “looked as upset as the rest of us, she was crying, and people were around her comforting her.”
Defense Counsel Diann Black inquired as to whether Crosley viewed a Fox 59 News interview with Shirley two nights after the blast.
The next witness, Kevin Cole, described in a shaky voice two-and-half years after that night how the explosion, “felt like the end of the world.”
Cole noticed there was a mass amount of damage to his upstairs bathroom and, “the ceiling was gone.”
“‘We need to get out,'” Cole recalled telling his wife before emerging on the street to see the house of Dion and Jennifer Longworth engulfed in flames.
Then Cole turned to look at his own home.
“We had the unique experience of watching our house burn down,” he said.
Cole said he won’t forget the look of panic on the face of a responding Indianapolis firefighter.
The homeowner, who has since rebuilt, pegged his losses at a quarter million dollars.
Glenn Olvey testified that he lived in the next house north of Shirley’s at 8343 Fieldfare Way and was in the family room of his home with his wife and daughter watching television when his neighbor’s house exploded.
“Basically everything exploded where we were sitting at, it went dark and we went blind,” he said.
Olvey told jurors he passed out under the debris of his house and was eventually dug out by neighbors, his oldest daughter by his side and his youngest daughter missing for what “seemed like an eternity” until she was found unharmed.
The Olvey family never rebuilt its home as losses totalled more than a quarter million dollars and just recently sold the lot in the Richmond Hill subdivision.
Gloria Olvey testified that after watching the roof cave in on her home, she told her daughter to, “call 911 and tell them there are four people in the house and we need help.” She said a 2″ x 4″ went through the calf of her leg and the wound was closed by 32 stitches and that it took neighbors weilding a board to pry the collapsed roof off of her.
Olvey said she noticed a “mechanical-like hiss” emanating from Shirley’s gas meter the night before the explosion but could not detect a leak.
Catherine Olvey was 14-years-old the night of the explosion and said she picked up the scent of propane in her neighborhood in the days before the blast and fatal fire.
Judge John Marnocha ruled that he would not allow jurors to see autopsy photographs of the Longworths, finding that there was no legal question of the identity of the victims or their causes of death.
Forensic Pathologist Dr. Joye Carter of the Marion County Coroners Office testified that in medical terms the Longworths died of homicide, based on the investigation that determined the couple perished as a result of an intentional fire.
Dion Longworth’s body was 90% charred, said Carter, and he died of smoke and gas inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning as well as extensive burns.
Jennifer Longworth likely died instantly, testified the doctor, as a result of blast injuries and a skull fracture.
Longworth was upstairs in her own bedroom when the Shirley home exploded.
Testimony wrapped up with IFD Lt. Mario Garza, the lead arson investigator, telling jurors the Richmond Hill explosion was of the “high order” manner, that is, with pieces of homes and evidence scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Wednesday’s witnesses will include employees of Citizens Energy who could be expected to explain to the jury how the utility provided natural gas to the Richmond Hill community.