Cell phone videos show moments before fatal Lockport fire

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Cell phone videos obtained Friday by News 4 show the moments leading up to the fatal Aug. 10 fire in Lockport that killed 14-year-old Joseph Phillips.

These videos, and especially the voicemail, which the court witnessed during testimony the past month, are simply, hard to see and hear.

But News 4 believes this story has immense public interest, because it kept people from their homes and effectively shut down the city of Lockport for several days. It required hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and required every fire department in Niagara County to fight. Most importantly, it cost Phillips his life, and left two families including the teen on trial — forever changed.

The videos show from the teen’s perspective, what happened inside the abandoned building on the property of HTI Recycling.

Phillips and his friend are first seen sneaking through the corner of the sprawling property, ducking brush and stepping over discarded trash. Phillips is in the lead.

Then they come to the building, once used as an office and long since abandoned, with an old fire escape still intact and attached to the side of the brick exterior wall. That’s how the teens get to window on the roof.

Once inside, there are plenty of signs that someone had been there before. There’s graffiti on the walls, and piles of ashes on the ground where previous fires had been started and then extinguished. The court was told during trial that Phillips and his friends had been in building muliple times before the Aug. 10 fire.

Prosecutors introduced them to show the teen on trial was at least partially responsible.

The teen’s attorney, Angelo DiMillo, said he offered the plea bargain several months ago.

“He was not the fire-setter, it was not his lighter, not his idea, first time he went in there with Joe with that purpose in mind,” DiMillo said. “My client did not cause the death of Joe. It’s his best friend. I said this from day one, he’s heartbroken over this. These are two young boys who are screwing around with fire and never appreciated the danger and how quickly things to get out of hand.”

Additional videos taken moments after the teens are inside show Phillips is using a lighter to ignite pieces of paper. But soon, his friend can be seen using additional pieces of rolled up paper to “explore,” as he put it.

He’s walking through the darkened building, sparks and ashes falling to the floor. From another angle, the video shows the teen leaving behind him a trail of embers.

“Our purpose when we presented these matters to the court was to provide a clear picture to the community of what occurred on August 10,” said Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg. “Those videos give the best narrative of what happened. They’re not subject to anyone’s interpretation or voices or testimony. People actually get to see what happened on that particular day.”

These videos were played as evidence in Niagara County Family Court — during the sentencing phase, to prove that Phillips wasn’t alone in responsibility for this massive fire.

The trial is scheduled to resume on April 4, when the judge is expected to issue his final decision from the bench.

The teen standing trial faces a maximum of 18 months in a juvenile detention center and 15-hundred dollars in restitution, the maximum penalties in juvenile court.

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