A specialized division of the New York State Police has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding an August 8 fire that destroyed a historic barn on Wittenberg Road in Woodstock and injured the resident of a neighboring property.
Lt. Richard Mazzone, who oversees the Kingston branch of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), the plainclothes detective division of the state police, said in a September 5 interview that his unit is conducting a criminal probe of the blaze, which erupted around 5:45 p.m. and quickly engulfed the barn, thwarting the efforts of fast-responding firefighters to save it.
“It is a fire of a suspicious nature. Due to that we are conducting a criminal investigation, which is open and continuing,” said Mazzone, who declined to elaborate on the procedures employed in the investigation or the results of a related inquiry into the cause of the fire by the Ulster County Fire Investigation Unit (FIU), formerly known as the arson task force.
A September 4 call to Dave Warringer, the FIU’s chief investigator, was not returned. In a September 4 phone interview, Woodstock fire chief Michael Densen said that he had not received any recent updates on the status of the FIU’s investigation, although the county unit normally furnishes such information to local fire departments. Among those interviewed by state and county investigators, at the scene of the fire and afterward, were the owners of the barn and surrounding property at 166 Wittenberg Road, Mitch Vinicor and RoseAnn Doherty-Vinicor.
Janet Shultis, whose residence adjoins the Vinicor property, suffered second-degree burns to her face and an arm when she ran past the burning barn, reportedly en route to her house. She received treatment for her injuries at Kingston Hospital and, subsequently, at Westchester Medical Center, in Valhalla.
Senior investigator Peter Kusminsky, who reports to Mazzone, supervises a team of investigators at the Kingston branch of the BCI. Established in 1935, the BCI comprises more than a thousand investigators statewide. Cases requiring extensive investigation or involving felonies are referred to the bureau. Under New York State penal law, arson in most instances is a felony, with the exception of fifth-degree arson, which is a misdemeanor.