Many heroes emerge from one awful night Dec. 27, 2009
left, Erica Desreuisseau, Elaine Yeskie's grandaughter, and Elaine Yeskie listen to special prosecutor, Brett Vottero at the press conference held after the sentencing of Anthony Baye Wednesday morning in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Hampshire Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney at the sentencing of Anthony Baye Wednesday morning in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »
State Fire Marshall Michael Mazza investigates the cause of the Hawley Street fire Friday Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — Amid the accounting of the terrible deeds done and the pain and suffering caused by the arson spree that befell this city Dec. 27, 2009, were some stories of heroic behavior and public servants who went above and beyond the call of duty.
Judge Constance Sweeney made note of that Wednesday during the sentencing hearing for arsonist Anthony Baye, 28, in talking about the community as a whole, and the firefighters and police officers who responded to the scenes of multiple, dangerous fires that night.
“The way Northampton and its citizens responded is something we can learn from,” said Sweeney.
The firefighters and police officers who turned out that night, she said, “were just heroic in their actions that night.”
Sweeney said witness testimony about the police response to the 17 Fair St., home where Paul Yeskie Sr. and Paul Yeskie Jr. perished that night brought that fact home to her in a powerful way.
“It was a conflagration at the Yeskie home,” she said, when Northampton Patrol Officer Kenneth Kirchner arrived on the scene.
“This officer desperately tried to get into this house that was burning down around him,” Sweeney said.
He was assisted by other first responders, some of whom came from communities outside Northampton to respond to a call of a city in trouble, she said.
“They fought to the last possible moment to save Paul Yeskie Sr. and Paul Yeskie Jr., and only when the flames came over the roof to attack them did they stop,” she said. “It was an amazing intersection of community response.”
At a press conference after the sentencing hearing, Brett Vottero, the special prosecutor who handled the Baye case, also highlighted some of the people he said acted in exemplary ways.
“In almost 30 years as a lawyer, I have never seen a case filled with so many heroes,” he said. Among them:
∎ Two dispatchers who worked at the city’s emergency dispatch center that night, staying calm and focused under enormous pressure. “They handled all the calls, the 911 calls, police and fire dispatches, other calls — that’s the overwhelming part,” he said. “They handled all of that and they handled it extremely well.”
∎ Northampton Police Detective Corey Robinson, who stopped Anthony Baye at 3:30 a.m. the night of the fires, engaging him in conversation for 20 minutes, “because his instincts told him something wasn’t right.” Robinson, Vottero said, asked Baye questions that elicited answers that would later prove important because of the inconsistencies they revealed in his accounting of his actions that night.
“They were just good instincts and they were followed up within 24 hours when he made contact again” with Baye, said Vottero.
∎ State Trooper William Medina, of the state police investigative unit attached to the district attorney’s office, “who also had an instinct he followed up.” Medina’s suspicions about some of Baye’s answers to questions in one interview led to another interview during which more inconsistencies were revealed.
∎ State Trooper Michael Mazza. “There is no finer police interviewer than Michael Mazza,” Vottero said. Ultimately, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court threw out portions of Mazza’s interrogation of Baye, but Vottero stood by the interview. “He treated Anthony Baye with nothing but respect — respect and compassion,” Vottero said.
∎ State Police Sgt. Paul Zipper, another seasoned arson investigator. Vottero said Mazza and Zipper conducted the interviews of Baye together. “They are both highly experienced fire investigators and forensic interviewers,” he said.
∎ Assistant Northwestern District Attorneys Matthew Thomas and Thomas Townsend, who he said worked closely with him as a strong team.
“All of these things were absolutely essential to this resolution,” Vottero said.