Last revised: May 22, 2013 --

Photo Album

January 6, 1959

Newspaper Articles About AFIT Barracks Fire
(NOTE: Many references to photos omitted because of reproduction legibility.)

1. "4 Claims for $950,000 Filed in SkyTop Deaths"

2. "$3.5 Million Suits in SkyTop Blaze"

3. "Claims Filed in Deaths from Fire At University"

4. "Releases By 19 Injured Airmen Claimed Invalid"

5. "Airmen Paid For Loss In Barracks Blaze"

6."Officials' Quiz Asked By Widows"

7. "SkyTop Fire Widows Get Order for Pre-Trial Exam"

8. "Airmen Accounts Available"

9. "Suit Settled In Fire Death"

10. "Judge Denies Early Trial In Fire Suits"


(An Event we will never forget!)


Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Saturday, April 4, 1959, p. 1

 [Article at middle-right side of Page 1:] 

“4 Claims for $950,000 Filed in Skytop Deaths”

     Four death claims for damages of $950,000, arising from the Jan. 6 fire that destroyed a barracks at Syracuse University’s Skytop housing were filed yesterday against the City of Syracuse by relatives of airmen who lost their lives in the holocaust.  Altogether seven men perished in the pre-dawn fire.

     The largest claim, $300,000, was filed by Mrs. Donna Marie Merfeld, 911 Market St., LaCrosse, Wis., wife of Thomas P. Merfeld.

     The claim was filed for Mrs. Merfeld, one child and a second unborn child expected soon.  She alleged her husband’s death was caused by “negligence, recklessness and carelessness of the city and Syracuse University” in construction of the building and its maintenance.

     Next largest claim, $250,000, was filed by Samuel and Louise Gasparri, 155 School St., Yonkers, jointly as next of kin, and by Samuel Gasparri, as administrator of the extate of Michael Gasparri, another victim.

     In their claim they charged the barracks was a “fire hazard and trap.”  They allege the city was negligent because it failed to enforce “duly enacted statutes, ordinances, rules and regulations” pertaining to use of the barracks for safety and protection of its occupants.

     The other claims were each for $200,000.  One was filed by Joseph E. Stoll, 41 Marshall St., Norwalk, O., as next of kin of Joseph E. Stoll Jr.  He acted in his own behalf and that of Mrs. Thelma Stoll, mother of the deceased.

     The other claim was filed by Mrs. Lillian Benbow Duggan, 3 Cedar St., Manning, S. C., as mother of Edward E. Duggan, another victim.

     Mrs. Duggan in her claim alleged the city and Syracuse University were both negligent inasmuch as the building was “improperly, carelessly and negligently constructed and maintained” and “was a fire hazard and dangerous.”

     The Gasparri couple retained Frank J. Hand, 20 South Broadway, Yonkers, as their attorney.  The other claimants were represented by Victor Levine, 407 S. Warren St., in filing their claims.

     The claims in each instance were filed at the office of City Clerk Edward R. Apps and immediately on receipt were sent to the office of Corporation Counsel George T. Driscoll.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Sunday, April 5, 1959, Section III, p. 22

 [Article at middle-left side of Page 22:] 

$3.5 Million Suits In Skytop Blaze”

     Suits against the city and Syracuse University resulting from the Jan. 6 fire at Skytop will total $3,525,000.

     Seven Airmen were killed and at least 31 were injured in an early morning fire in a prefab barracks.

     So far, claims totaling $950,000 have been filed at City Hall, and 31 more totaling 2,575,000 will be filed tomorrow by Victor Levine, attorney for the claimants.

     The claims allege negligence on the part of the university in failing to construct and maintain the barracks properly and on the part of the city in failing to inspect the barracks.

State Claimants

     The New York State claimants, each asking $50,000, are Donald G. McKinney of Lyon Mountain, Donald T. Dowling of Rochester, Theodore C. Lemery, Jr. of Glen Falls, Robert F. Mu[h]lbauer of Niagara Falls, and Maloney E. Martin Jr. [sic] of Flushing, L. I.

     Asking $200,000 each are Charles M. Helms of Grenada, Miss.; Eugene A. Safransky of Natrona Heights, Pa.; Victor B. Ingalls of Coudersport, Pa.; and James Kowalczyk of Palmer, Mass.

     Asking $150,000 each are Edward F. Balliet of Jim Thorpe, Pa., and Alan R. Conley of Port Huron, Mich.

Seek $100,000

     Seeking $100,000 each are Joseph D. Hacker of Hamilton, Ohio; John H. Keller of Mount Dora, Fla.; Ray C. Presley of Knoxville, Tenn., and Pete G. Dowling of Philadelphia, Pa.

     Braxton B. Baker III of Richmond, Va. Seeks $75,000 damages.  Asking $50,000 each are James F. Kyrish of Falls City, Tex.; John S. Tansey of Jacksonville, Fla.; Francis J. Snyder Jr. of Princeton, N. J.; Kenneth P. Avery of Cambridge, Mass.

     Also, Ralph K. Franklin Jr. of Claremont, N. H.; Carl H. Hand III of Shelby, N. C.; Daniel Kushner of Paterson, N. J.; Ronald J. Kyritz of Chicago, Ill., Raymond K. Seipold of Emerson, Iowa; Carlton H. Walker of Concord, Mass.; John C. Donaldson of Reading, Pa.; Donald D. Webb of Kitts Hill, Ohio; Hubert Carignan of Turners Falls, Mass., and Harry L. Drumm of East Moline, Ill.



Source:  The Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio
Date, Edition:  Tuesday, April 7, 1959, p. 8

[Article at top-center of Page 8] 

Claims Filed In Deaths From Fire At University”

     SYRACUSE, N. Y. (AP)—Notices of claims totaling $3,525,000 were to be filed against the city of Syracuse today resulting from a barracks fire where seven Air Force men died and 31 were injured.

     The fire last Jan. 6 destroyed a barracks at Syracuse University’s Skytop development, where airmen studying Russian at the university were housed.

     Families of four of the dead airmen said they are seeking a total of $950,000 in damages.  The 31 injured men want an additional $2,575,000.

     The largest claim, $300,000, is being sought by Mrs. Donna Marie Merfield [Merfeld] of La Crosse, Wis., whose husband, S. Sgt. Thomas Merfield, died in the fire.  Mrs. Merfield is expecting her third child soon.

     Joseph E. Stoll of Norwalk, Ohio seeks $200,000 for the death of his son, Joseph Jr.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Saturday, April 25, 1959, Section III, p. 6

 [Article at top-middle of Page 6:] 

Releases By 19 Injured Airmen Claimed Invalid”

     The attorney for 19 airmen, injured in a fire Jan. 6 at Syracuse University, is claiming that releases signed by them for an insurance company are invalid because the airmen are minors.

     The issue of the releases was raised at a hearing conducted by Corporation Counsel George T. Driscoll.  The airmen are suing both Syracuse University and the city.

     Driscoll asked the airmen if they signed releases after payment by the insurance men.  The airmen admitted they had received payments.

     However, there can be no settlements in New York State with minors without permission of a judge.  Attorney Victor Levine contends that the city does not have the right to examine the airmen as to any releases they might have signed with an insurance company for Syracuse University.

Seeks Judgment

     In addition, the releases are invalid, Levine claims.  He is seeking a declaratory judgment on behalf of one of the airmen, stating that the corporation counsel may not inquire into the releases.

     The airman claims that he has not been furnished with a copy of the release, and that the insurance company refused to furnish his attorney with one.

     The airman also alleges that he was never requested to appear before any judge or court to have the release judicially approved.

Seven Perished

     The fire Jan. 6 claimed seven lives.  A number of airmen were burned or were injured fleeing the blaze.

     The airmen are part of a special Air Force groups studying the Russian language at Syracuse University.

     The suit against the university is for negligence and against the city for failure to inspect the premises.

     The allegedly invalid, illegal releases were obtained by agents of the Continental Casualty Co.  A spokesman for the insurance company last night declined to comment on the matter.



Source:  The Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio
Date, Edition:  Thursday, October 1, 1959, p. 2

 [Article at center of Page 28:] 

“Airmen Paid For Loss In Barracks Blaze”

     SYRACUSE, N. Y. (AP)—Donald D. Webb of Kitts Hill, Ohio, is one of four airmen who received between $200 and $450 each for property loss in a fire that destroyed a Syracuse University barracks last Jan. 6.

     Seven air force men died and 36 were hurt in the blaze.  The injured and relatives of the dead filed claims totaling more than $3,500,000 against the university and the city.



Source:  Syracuse Herald Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.

Date, Edition:  Tuesday, November 10, 1959, p.3

 [Article at middle-left side of Page 3:] 

“Officials’ Quiz Asked By Widows

     Widows of two airmen killed in the Jan. 6 Skytop dormitory fire seek to question Syracuse University officials on various points about the fire, the building and fire protection.

     State Supreme Court Justice Frank Del Vecchio yesterday reserved decision on the motion of Victor Levine, attorney for plaintiffs in 32 suits brought against the University as a result of the fire.

     Levine asked that he be allowed to question Francis A. Wingate, S.U. vice president and treasurer; Edward J. Gibbons, superintendent of buildings; Lewis C. Ryan, secretary of the Board of Trustees, and other officials.

     The motion was brought specifically on behalf of two plaintiffs, Mrs. Lulu Mae Marlow of Converse, Tex., widow of William Marlow, and Mrs. Donna M. Merfeld, LaCrosse, Wis., widow of Thomas P. Merfeld.  Each is administratrix of their husband’s estates.

     Questions that Levine wants to ask the S.U. officers deal with purchase of the dormitory; construction, erection and remodeling of the building; material and equipment, including any fire alarm system or and heating system; maintenance; inspections, and cause of the fire.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Friday, December 11, 1959, p. 8

 [Article at center-right side of Page 8:] 

“Skytop Fire Widows Get Order for Pre-Trial Exam”

     Widows of two of the seven Air Force Students who lost their lives in a fire that destroyed a Skytop Dormitory in January won a preliminary step yesterday in their actions against Syracuse University.

     Justice Frank DelVecchio granted a motion by Victor Levine, their counsel, for an order to examine certain officers of the university before trial.

     The order also directs the defendant to deposit at the office of its attorneys – Hancock, Dorr, Ryan and Sove – all relevant contacts and correspondence within five days.

     The judge ordered that it turn over any correspondence between it and the federal government or Air Force, relating to the purchase or installation of any materials or the alteration of the university’s Building M-7 which was burned.

     The order specifically includes purchase and installation of any fire alarm, fire detection system or heating system.

     The judge directed that the university and its attorneys permit the widows’ lawyers to inspect and copy the matters during business days over a 30-day period.

     The court appointed Gustus Ambrose, a referee, to receive any of the matters designated in the order to have them copied or photographed.

     The court directed Francis A. Wingate, a vice president of the university; Edward J. Gibbons, superintendent of buildings and grounds; and Lewis C. Ryan, secretary of its board of trustees to appear for pre-examination at a date to be fixed.

     Plaintiffs in the actions are Mrs. Lulu Mae Marlow of Converse, Tex., administratrix of the estate of Billy D. Marlow, and Mrs. Donna Marie Merfield [sic] of LaCrosse, Wis., administratrix of the estate of Thomas P. Merfield.

     Both are mothers of three small children and both were expecting a fourth child at the time of their husbands’ deaths.



Source:  Syracuse Herald Journal, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Tuesday, February 16, 1960, p. 3

 [Article at top-left side of Page 3:] 

“Airmen Accounts Available”

     Copies of statements taken from 32 airmen after the Jan. 6, 1959, Skytop dormitory fire will be turned over to the attorney for the injured Air Force men.

     Victor Levine, the attorney, said today that Syracuse University, defendant in the cases, yesterday was also granted two more weeks to gather information on the construction, maintenance,  repair and purchase of the dormitory and other information demanded by the plaintiffs.

     The two moves were the latest in a series of legal tangles in the cases brougtht by 32 airmen injured in the blaze and relatives of seven airmen who died.

     The compromises were reached in motion term of State Supreme Court yesterday.  Justice E. Howard Ringrose presided.  Both were the result of motions made by Levine.

     The lawyer said insurance firm representing the university agreed to allow him to examine the airmen’s statements after a short discussion in court.  He had brought a motion asking the court to order the company to furnish him copies of the statements, he said.

     The second motion was based, Levine said, on a Dec. 10, 1959, decision by Justice Frank Del Vecchio.  The judge ordered S.U. to show him (Levine) copies of all contracts for the purchase, erection, maintenance and repair of the burned building, and of the contracts the university had with the government pertaining to the dormitory and the airmen, he said.

     Levine said the university’s attorneys said they have not completed gathering all material sought and asked for more time.  They were given until March 7 to comply with the order.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Friday, January 12, 1962, Second Section, p. 11

 [Article at top-right side of Page 11:] 

“Suit Settled In Fire Death”

     A $16,500 settlement was approved in Surrogate’s Court yesterday for the mother of one of seven Air Force enlisted men burned to death in a 1959 Syracuse University dormitory fire.

     Mrs. Lillian B. Duggan of Manning, S.C., mother of Airman 3.c. Edward E. Duggan, 23, received the settlement yesterday, just two years and five days following the holocaust which claimed the life of her son on Jan 6, 1959.

Seven Were Killed

     Seven airmen were killed and 32 were injured when fire swept through the prefabricated building at Skytop in which they resided, records indicate.  It was the fourth highest fire death toll in the history of Syracuse.

    Attorney for Mrs. Duggan, Victor Levine of Syracuse, told The Post-Standard last night that he is still handling 29 cases for damages to individuals resulting from the fire.  The claims total more than $2,000,000, he said.

City, SU Are Defendants

     Defendants in the case are Syracuse University, which owned and controlled the prefabricated dormitory and the City of Syracuse.

     Two of the remaining 29 cases involve deaths, which were caused by the dormitory fire.  All 29 are scheduled to be placed on the Supreme Court trial calendar, Levine said.  Levine has settled two other cases involving the claims of relatives of dead airmen.

     The seven airmen who perished in the fire were foreign language-students at the university.  They were temporarily stationed in Syracuse on orders of the Air Force.

Attorney Makes Charges

    In papers filed with the court, Levine contended that the building which burned was “improperly constructed and maintained, based on study of a report of the City Fire Marshall.”

     The attorney also contended that fire protection at the building was faulty.  He said the university decided to abandon fire alarm systems in the building, and others like it, after persons living in them stood on chairs in their rooms and, with lighted matches placed under fire alarm wires, set off false fire alarms.

     Levine, and his associate in the case, Gustus Ambrose, also contended that the City Fire Department had failed to perform its obligation to inspect the building in order to keep it safe.



Source:  The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y.
Date, Edition:  Saturday, February 24, 1962, p. 7

 [Article at center-right side of Page 7:] 

“Judge Denies Early Trial In Fire Suits”

     The attorney for the widows of two Air Force enlisted men killed in a 1959 dormitory fire at Syracuse University will appeal yesterday’s Supreme Court denial of his motion for “immediate trial.”

     The fire, which left seven airmen dead and 32 injured at Skytop, was the fourth highest fire death toll in Syracuse history.  Defendants are Syracuse University and the City of Syracuse.

     Attorney Victor Levine appeared before Justice Donald P. Gorman yesterday.  Justice Gorman denied his motion for immediate trials.

     The two plaintiffs are Mrs. Lulu Mae Marlow of Converse, Tex., widow of William Marlow and Mrs. Donna M. Merfield of LaCrosse, Wis., widow of Thomas P. Merfield.  Both are seeking $200,000 in damages.

     Levine said he will appeal Justice Gorman’s denial of his motion because “even if the cases do get on the current trial calendar, it may take more than two years for them to reach the trial stage.”  The attorney will take the cases to the Appellate Division.

     Three of the other five cases involving deaths in the 1959 fire have been settled.


Source of Articles Above:


   1            The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Apr 4, 1959)                             

   2            The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Apr 5, 1959)                              

   3            The Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio (Apr 7, 1959)        

   4           The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Apr 25, 1959)                             

   5            The Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, Ohio (Oct 1, 1959)        

   6            Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Nov 10, 1959)                 

   7            The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Dec 11, 1959)                            

   8            Syracuse Herald-Journal, Syracuse, N. Y. (Feb 16, 1960)                 

   9            The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Jan 12, 1962)                            

 10            The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N. Y. (Feb 24, 1962)                        

Last revised: May 22, 2013


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