Lockport fire victim’s mother: ‘It’s easy to blame the dead’

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — The lead attorney for the teen standing trial in the deadly Lockport fire said Wednesday Joseph Phillips led the duo to an abandoned building on the expansive HTI Property. and that it was Phillips’ lighter that sparked the flames that ultimately killed him.

Phillips’ mother Ann, who spoke exclusively to News 4, says it’s easy for attorneys to pin the three-day blaze on her son, because the dead can’t offer a defense.
“I don’t believe Joe did that,” she said. I mean, if nothing else, this kid is also a willing participant, if not the leader. But they’re trying to play it out like he had nothing to do with it and he was just there watching. No, no way.”
Wednesday marked the first of what’s expected to be several days of testimony in the fact finding hearing, named so because it’s being held in Niagara County Family Court. The accused is 14 years old.
“It’s easy to blame someone who’s dead,” Ann Phillips said. “I mean, he’s gone, he can’t speak for himself. I’m here for Joe, I’m not here for any other reason. I am his voice. I will be his voice. And I am a reminder. Joe was well loved, he was well loved.”
The fire at the tire recycling plant burned for more than three days, ripped through 15 acres of property and cost more than $13 million in damages, Niagara County attorney John Sansone.
Attorney Angelo DiMillo argued Wednesday his client did not cause Phillips’ death, and that it was Phillips who led the two onto the HTI property. DiMillo also said Phillips and another teen had been in the same building starting fires just one week prior.
The 14-year-old Phillips died in the fire, but not before making a final plea in the form of a voicemail to the accused teen. The voicemail is expected to be played in court in the days to come.
Ann Phillips said she believes the accused teen ignored the call.
“I absolutely do. He saw Joe in that burning building, he knew it was burning, he ran out,” she said. “You can’t tell me that you didn’t get that phone call until later, that you didn’t know. You did know. And you left them there.”
The teen is facing 10 charges, including the most serious of criminally negligent homicide, as well as multiple arson and criminal mischief.
Fire investigator Michael Knowlton testified Wednesday the fire was set intentionally in an abandoned building on the HTI property, an area known as “the graveyard” because it was only used for storage. It was one of two fires the teens set, Knowlton said.
Knowlton said Phillips’ body was found on top of piles of tiny rubber pellets, or what’s known as crumb dust.
The investigator said Phillips landed on top of those piles after the floor gave way, as he was trying to escape from the second floor window that the teens entered using a ladder.
Ann Phillips says she was bothered by the attorney’s assessment the teen standing trial and Joe were best friends.
“It irritates me because he is not a best friend. Best friends don’t leave other friends in there to fend for himself. He has a cell phone. Why didn’t he pick up and call 911. Joe did call, but he called the other boy. And I have to wonder why.”
The trial continues Thursday morning in Lockport. Although it was initially scheduled for two days, DiMillo said he expects the trial to continue into March.

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