A family feud between a brother and sister who lived next door to each other in Alden ended Wednesday afternoon when the brother set both houses on fire and killed himself by remaining in the basement of one of the burning homes.
Authorities identified the victim as Andrew Sindrewicz, 49, of 12763 Uebelhoer Road.
Sindrewicz was served with court papers late Tuesday by his sister, Helena Ward, who lives next door at 12773 Uebelhoer, to partition the property both jointly inherited from their mother a few years ago, family members said.
"We knew we were going to have some problems," Ward said. "We didn't know it would come to this."
Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said deputies responded to "numerous complaints" over the years about Sindrewicz involving property and family disputes. Ward said there were as many as eight incidents over the last two years.
This latest one began after noon. Ward, who works at nearby AVI Foodsystems, came home from work at about 1:30 p.m. to find the rear porch of her house on fire. She went for an outside garden hose. Her son-in-law arrived home moments later and realized his house next door was also burning.
"I never thought he would do this," said Ward, shortly after Sindrewicz's body was pulled from the charred remains of the home and loaded into a medical examiner's van. "There's been a long history here, but I would have never thought he would do this."
Authorities discovered Sindrewicz's body slumped over a couch in the basement of the home of his late mother. He died of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning or asphyxiation, authorities said. Ward said her brother shared the house with her daughter, Holly Earsing and her husband, Dale, and Ward's two grandchildren, ages 9 and 10. Sindrewicz lived alone in his own apartment there, off the garage.
Sindrewicz apparently broke into both houses to start the fires. A sledgehammer was found on Ward's porch.
All of the family members at both houses were either at work or at school at the time of the fires, according to Ward. She said her brother locked his own dog in his pickup outside and kept the Earsing's cat and dog in the burning house with him.
Dale Earsing suffered minor injuries attempting to enter his home, authorities said. Authorities later found Earsing's dog dead, locked inside a cage.
On Sindrewicz's truck, family members found a note containing instructions to whom they should give the truck and his dog, who was found alive.
Howard said investigators believe Sindrewicz meant to kill himself and that the death of the nephew's dog was intentional.
"It's not accidental," he said. "He was taking precautions to save his own dog."
Wednesday's events shocked the closest neighbors on the rural street between Wende and Peters Corner roads.
"We knew they argued a lot," said neighbor Tom Woelfle, who said he was met at his front door by SWAT teams who surrounded the area during a dispute a few years ago when Sindrewicz threatened to kill his sister.
Still, Woelfle said of Sindrewicz: "He was a good guy. He had his stuff. He liked to drink and played his music loud. Me and my wife always said, 'He's harmless.' "
"I can't believe he did it."
Ward said she sought the court order because of her brother's "constant harassment" of other family members at the house.
"He was belligerent because he was drinking all the time," Ward said.
She said her brother played music too loud and too late. When family members asked him to turn it down, he turned it up, she said. Ward hadn't talked to her brother in 10 months.
Sindrewicz, according to his sister, was trained as a carpenter, but rarely worked and was unemployed for a lengthy period of time. She said he never paid anything for utilities or taxes to maintain the house.
"He wanted to live for free," she said.
The house Ward and Sindrewicz inherited was built in 1963 by their father, a prisoner of war in Europe during World War II.
"It was his pride and joy," Ward said of her father.
The 1 1/2 -story house, charred black by the fire, is now slated for emergency demolition.
The east side of Ward's raised ranch house received heavy damage. Vinyl siding melted away and a portion of the roof collapsed. The front porch and side rooms were charred and authorities were assessing whether it is salvageable.
"My children are OK and my grandchildren weren't hurt," Ward said. "This is rebuildable."
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