The home of murder victim Wayne Best Jr. was destroyed in a massive fire early Friday morning that sent his stepmother to the hospital.
Schenectady firefighters responded around 12:30 a.m. to reports of a fire at 1052-54 Parkwood Blvd. The fire, labeled suspicious, was under control in two hours but gutted the home, which was demolished Friday evening.
Firefighters have not yet determined the cause and origin of the fire.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Friday afternoon that the fire investigation has turned criminal.
"We don't have a final cause and origin, but based on preliminary indications, it does appear to be a suspicious fire," he said. "It's based on everything that we know about the fire investigation so far."
The two-family home was occupied at the time of the blaze. Three downstairs residents got out of the house safely. Firefighters rescued a woman, Karen Kirsch, from the second floor of the home.
She was initially sent to Ellis Hospital and later transported to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit, according to Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett.
Bennett would not confirm Kirsch’s identity. But Michael Marconi, a friend of Best, said Kirsch was the one rescued by firefighters and sustained burns and smoke inhalation.
Marconi said Best’s brother, Jonathan, who lives with Kirsch at the home, was not home at the time of the fire. He was sleeping at a friend’s house Thursday night, he said.
He said Kirsch had all of Best’s belongings in the house, which have now been destroyed.
“I think she’ll be OK, it’s just when she wakes up and realizes all Wayne’s stuff is gone,” Marconi said in a Facebook message Friday morning.
Best, 25, was shot and killed in December 2014 near his home on Parkwood Boulevard. Two weeks ago Christopher Johnson, 25, and Todd Macon, 29, both of Schenectady, were arrested in connection with the homicide.
Macon was arraigned in Schenectady County Court on Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges. Johnson is expected to be arraigned next week.
Police said last month that Johnson and Macon fatally shot Best while trying to rob him. Carney said more arrests are possible.
The home at 1052-54 Parkwood is unstable and a demolition crew from Ditonno & Sons dismantled the front porch Friday afternoon to allow firefighters and investigators to sift through debris.
Members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Suffolk County Fire Marshal were on the scene helping Schenectady firefighters and police with the investigation.
Investigators went door-to-door interviewing neighbors on Parkwood Boulevard throughout the day on Friday. The area was blocked to traffic.
All four people in the two-family home at the time of the fire were females, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Gillespie said. There was one resident and two friends on the first floor and Kirsch on the second floor.
One of the individuals on the first floor first reported the fire by calling 911, Bennett said. He said the three people on the first floor were awake at the time of the incident.
The fire was largely contained to the home but neighboring houses on each side sustained minor structural damage along with heavy water damage. The residents of those homes have been displaced.
Gillespie said three firefighters were injured while battling the blaze. One suffered a shoulder injury and two others slipped and fell during the incident. He said all three have minor injuries.
In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Ruth Brown, Best’s maternal grandmother, said his murder has been devastating and that the fire “is strange and weird.”
Brown said she was scared that Best’s brother, Jonathan, might have been home at the time of the fire.
“If that had been another one gone I would have asked the lord to take me home,” said Brown, who lives in North Carolina. “I can’t live through this again.”
She recalled Best, whom she said she called “little Wayne,” as a great lacrosse player.
Best played lacrosse at Schenectady High School and Herkimer County Community College. He made the Adirondack Region’s Empire State Games lacrosse team in the summer of 2006, before his high school senior year.
“I drove to Virginia one time when he was playing lacrosse,” she said. “And he came here one time and stayed a week with us in North Carolina.”
Brown said she doesn’t understand why Best was killed and hopes the people who are responsible are brought to justice.
“I don’t understand how somebody could walk up and shoot him down in cold blood and get away with it for so long,” she said. “I hope they got the right people and if there are more out there I hope they are apprehended. Nobody is perfect but no one deserves to be shot down at your own house.”
Schenectady police are asking the public to call the tips line at 518-788-6566 with any information that may assist in the fire investigation.
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, firstname.lastname@example.org or @HRViccaro on Twitter.