Following court order, Lewis still seeks hidden info on fire that burned his Westerlo home

— Photo from David Lewis

An investigator with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, John Fairclough, walks with his trained arson dog, Ashes, through the rubble left after David Lewis’s home on Creamery Road burned in 2017.

WESTERLO — David Lewis still has questions about the fire that destroyed his Westerlo home on May 22, 2017.

He had trouble getting information about the fire, and was finally successful when he took the matter to Albany County Supreme Court. In May, Judge Christine Ryba ruled that the Albany County Sheriff’s office had to either release information or explain why it wasn’t.

Some requested information is still being withheld, leading Lewis to question why.

The sheriff’s office released further documents Lewis had requested through the state’s Freedom of Information Law as well as providing explanations as to why other items had been withheld. Lewis made his FOIL request nearly a year ago.

Lewis, who now lives in New Jersey with his wife and son due to health complications from the fire, also had made a FOIL request to the state Department of Homeland Security because its agency investigates the causes of fires.

Lewis said that he believes the fire was caused by an electrical issue. But he has maintained that information he requested was withheld by both the state and county purposefully to protect an ex-convict on parole from getting in trouble with the law for being at the scene and falsely claiming shots were fired.

The Enterprise could not reach this individual for comment and is not naming this person because Lewis’s claims could not be verified by other sources. Multiple calls over the past month to the sheriff’s office and individuals working at the sheriff’s office were not returned for comment.

However, Sheriff’s Inspector J.T. Campbell had called The Enterprise after the May story was published on Judge Ryba’s decision. Campbell said that, following an initial interview with Lewis, his attorney contacted the sheriff’s office; the attorney said he would be communicating with the office.

Following that correspondence, the sheriff’s office could not speak with Lewis without his attorney present, Campbell said.

“That’s why we want to conduct a follow-up interview … ,” Campbell said. “Due to the lack of cooperation by Mr. Lewis, we have a lot of unanswered questions.”

Campbell said that he couldn’t comment on what those questions are.

Kenneth Mackey said that he was on the scene and likely in photos where overhaul was taking place at the house because he is not only the captain of the Westerlo Rescue Squad, but also is a member of the Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company. He said that, as a town judge, he signed off on a search warrant but no longer has a copy of the warrant. He deferred any other questions about the fire to the sheriff’s office.

“There’s no conspiracy there,” said Mackey, when asked about Lewis’s theory.

Lewis also alleges that members of the fire company took items from his home after the fire.

“Your telling me this is the first time I’ve heard that,” Kevin Flensted, the Westerlo fire chief at the time of Lewis’s fire, responded on Saturday.

“I know all of our members and I would never expect them to do that,” he said of the volunteers taking items from the Lewis home.

Flensted went on, “We generally try to salvage what we can. The Albany County Sheriff’s Department was there. Because that was an active investigation, we didn’t touch anything at the scene.”

Documents released on June 6 from Albany County in response to Ryba’s order include a list of documents in possession of the sheriff’s office with statements as to why the items may or may not be withheld. The list was provided to The Enterprise by Lewis.

According to a statement from the Albany County attorney’s office, in addition to the original material sent to Lewis, the sheriff’s office released:

— A full copy of the state incident report and a supplemental incident report, which previously had been redacted;

— A copy of the 9-1-1 computer-assisted dispatch, with the identities of callers redacted, due to protecting personal privacy and an active law-enforcement investigation, according to the statement from the sheriff’s office;

— A handwritten statement from Lewis’s wife, Lee-Yin, who could not speak when she was questioned by police while hospitalized due to a breathing tube placed in her throat, said Lewis;

— A handwritten diagram of Lewis’s home on Creamery Road and property tax bills for the property;

— An email from Lewis’s attorney;

— An application for a search warrant by the sheriff’s office; and

— Lewis’s bank records, although emails between the sheriff’s office and the Albany County District Attorney’s Office has been redacted due to the investigation.

However, several items were still withheld.

Some of the items, such as information compiled on Lewis, his cell phone records, and photos of his car could be released to Lewis if he were to be interviewed — in-person or in a video conference — by the sheriff’s office, according to the statement.

If Lewis were to agree to be interviewed, the statement also says, notes from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control investigator and the sheriff’s office, subpoenas requested by the sheriff’s office, and a letter to the state police laboratory could be released.

Lewis emailed The Enterprise, stating that the sheriff’s office had not emailed questions after he had written to officials. “If the Albany County Sheriffs have any questions germane to the fire of 05/22/2017 that I haven't already answered, I'm happy to answer them,” Lewis wrote.

Other items that were withheld include:

— A copy of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control report on the fire, and a copy of the burn report, due to the active investigation;

— Depositions of five potential witnesses, which the sheriff’s office reports it is withholding due to its investigation as well as protecting the privacy of the individuals;

— The vehicle registration information of two potential witnesses, which the sheriff’s office reports it is withholding due to its investigation as well as protecting the privacy of the individuals. However, Lewis’s vehicle registration information was released;

— Data on “individual one” due to its investigation as well as protecting the privacy of the individual, according to the statement;

— Notes from the investigation on “Individual 6,” due to the investigation and protecting the privacy of the individual, according to the statement;

— Information compiled on Lewis’s wife, Lee-Yin, “due to the personal information contained in/attendant with said documents, and … due to the active Fire Investigations”; and

— Emails between the county attorney’s office and officials at the sheriff’s office about Lewis’s FOIL request and subsequent lawsuit, due to attorney-client privilege.

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