West Caldwell Fire Claims Life of NY Yankees Official Scorer
Sportswriter Bill Shannon died in his home on Crossbrook Lane, his mother was rescued from the burning house.
A 69-year-old man who died in his family's West Caldwell home Tuesday after becoming trapped on the second floor was identified as William "Bill" Shannon, the official scorer of the New York Yankees.
Shannon lived with his mother at a two-story split-level home at 14 Crossbrook Lane, which became engulfed in flames shortly before 9 a.m. Though he died in the blaze, his elderly mother was rescued from the first floor hallway.
Neighbors said they tried to rescue Shannon but the metal extension ladder they placed on the second floor buckled from the heat. Shannon was apparently at a second-story window that he'd broken and was trying to escape through it when he was overcome by smoke.
"He yelled he couldn't get out, then he just went down I guess," said next-door neighbor John Murphy. "We held the ladder in place, but smoke was billowing out of the second floor window … We could hear him knocking on the wall. The ladder was buckling from the heat."
Shannon was a baseball historian, author and an official scorer of the New York Yankees, according to the Associated Press. He also contributed stories to the AP. Neighbors said he traveled frequently and lived part-time in New York City and often stayed with his mother in West Caldwell.
Witnesses said neighbor John Capozzoli was the first to spot the house on fire and shouted to public works employees on nearby Jameson Place, who called 911.
DPW employee John O'Hern, who is a volunteer firefighter, went to the home and was one of the people who rescued Mildred Shannon, who is Bill Shannon's mother and the owner of the home, from her front hallway.
"He noticed smoke coming out of the back of the house and ran out to them," Murphy said of O'Hern "They came running. They were able to get outside the front door. They got her out."
Witnesses said flames were shooting from the roof, which later collapsed.
Murphy said Mildred Shannon, who is 92 and was wearing a nightgown, was carried across the street by neighbors. She was transported by ambulance to Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston where she is being treated for non-life threatening injuries, according to a release from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
Neighbors said Mildred Shannon, who may suffer from dementia, was unable to say whether anyone else was inside the home, but Murphy said he ran around the back of the house and saw her son's car in the garage.
At the same time witnesses noticed Shannon's car, they heard an upstairs window break and saw his face in a second floor window. Neighbors then attempted the ladder rescue. Murphy said the fire department arrived on the scene quickly, but the fire appeared to move even faster, "The fire department got here right away … but it all happened so fast."
The West Essex First Aid Squad responded to the scene and pronounced Shannon dead at approximately 11:30 am. The cause of death has not yet been officially determined.
A release from the Essex County Prosecutor's Office Arson Unit stated that the fire did not appear to be suspicious.
West Caldwell Fire Chief Charles Holden said the fire, which is believed to have started on the first floor, also sent approximately half a dozen firefighters to area hospitals.
O'Hern was sent to Chilton Hospital, firefighter David Gonzales was taken to Mountainside Hospital, and West Caldwell Police Officer Edward Bierals was also taken to Saint Barnabas. Holden said they were being treated for smoke inhalation.
Firefighters from West Caldwell, Caldwell, North Caldwell, Fairfield, Cedar Grove, Verona and other municipalities assisted on the scene.
The street was cordoned off at Central Avenue and neighbors left their homes while the heavy smoke condition was in the air.
Holden said the fire was reported at 8:55 a.m. and declared under control an hour later. He said the cause of the fire remains under investigation by the West Caldwell Fire Department and the Essex County Arson Unit, which is standard procedure in a fatality.
The last fire fatality in West Caldwell was five years ago on Distler Avenue, Holden said.
Editor's note: Earlier reports incorrectly stated that Bill Shannon was in his 50s and Mildred Shannon was 94. Also the name of neighbor John Capozzoli has been corrected. The Patch regrets the error.