LOCKPORT – Joe Phillips’ parents will have to wait longer to learn if their 14-year-old son was killed in the Lockport tire recycling center fire.
The human remains found Friday night in the ruins of the gigantic fire could not be identified using dental records, Niagara County Coroner Kenneth V. Lederhouse said Monday.
Lederhouse said a DNA test will be needed to see if the remains are those of Phillips, who was last seen by his father about 90 minutes before the fire started. He said he did not know how long it would take for DNA test results to be known.
Lederhouse said he took dental X-rays of Phillips to Erie County Medical Center, but those X-rays of a younger boy, taken three years ago, were too old to match with the teeth found.
Mark Phillips, the boy’s father, said he last saw his son at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, when he left to visit with two of his friends whom Phillips said live on Prospect Street, near where the fire started.
Law enforcement sources say Joe Phillips’ two friends have been questioned about the fire. One of them received a phone call from the boy, saying he was trapped inside the building and couldn’t find his way out. Sources told The Buffalo News that Phillips returned inside the office building after the fire started in an effort to extinguish it.
The fire erupted shortly after 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in a vacant former office building at the back of the property owned by HTI Recycling, a tire recycling plant.
Although HTI’s address is on Ohio Street, the fire started in a building along Stevens Street. It spread to three other buildings owned by HTI, destroying them along a substantial amount of machinery and an estimated 8 million pounds of ground rubber.
The fire resulted in a mandatory evacuation of parts of nine Lockport streets, keeping residents out of their homes for about 48 hours. The fire was not officially declared extinguished until 1 p.m. Saturday.
Fire officials have not announced the cause of the fire. No one has been charged in connection with it.
The News learned Monday that if one or both boys are charged with arson, the case would be prosecuted in Niagara County Family Court by the County Attorney’s Office, not the District Attorney’s Office. That’s because the boys in question are believed to be under 16 years old, and arson is not one of the charges for which a juvenile can be tried as an adult.
The case would not be presented to a grand jury, the sources said. However, the county Probation Department would review the matter before prosecution to determine if a juvenile suspect could benefit from counseling or treatment.
The maximum sentence from a Family Court judge for a juvenile offender is confinement to a state youth facility for 18 months, although state officials may extend or shorten the term based on analysis of the case.
Two sources with knowledge of the matter said there is no possibility of lodging a “felony murder” charge, which is used when a death is caused by someone who is in the process of committing another felony, such as arson. Felony murder can be alleged only when the person who dies is not a participant in the crime.
HTI’s business is recycling tires for industrial and recreational uses. Most of the rubber destroyed in the fire was earmarked for use on playgrounds and athletic fields.