LOCKPORT – Niagara County Coroner Kenneth V. Lederhouse said Friday that a DNA test has confirmed the identity of the body found in last week’s HTI Recycling fire as that of Joe Phillips.
The 14-year-old Lockport boy was last seen about 90 minutes before the gigantic fire broke out about 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 10.
Police announced on the night of Aug. 12 that they had found human remains in the rubble of the fire, which destroyed four buildings on the HTI property and 8 million pounds of crumb rubber derived from ground tires.
The Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted the DNA test after a comparison Monday of Phillips’ dental X-rays and the teeth found at the fire scene failed to establish an identity for the remains. A DNA sample from an unidentified family member was obtained for the test.
Police said at a news conference Tuesday that the body was found while crews were sifting through the ruins with an excavator.
Ann Phillips, the boy’s mother, would not comment Friday when contacted by The Buffalo News.
Law enforcement sources previously said that Phillips and a friend are believed to have entered a vacant former office building and started the fire, but Phillips apparently went back inside to try to put it out and was trapped and unable to escape.
Reportedly, a cellphone call was made by Phillips to his friend in which he was gasping for breath and reporting that he couldn’t get out.
The fire burned until 1 p.m. Aug. 13, and at various times every fire company in Niagara County, plus companies from four other counties, came to Lockport to assist.
Homes on parts of nine Lockport streets were evacuated for more than 48 hours because of the heavy smoke, and Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said this week the effort cost the city about $100,000 in overtime, diesel fuel deliveries, heavy equipment rental and other expenses.
Police released no further information about the investigation Friday.
If the other boy is accused of a crime, the case will be referred first to the Niagara County Probation Department for review. After that, the boy could undergo counseling, or the matter might be referred to the Niagara County Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution in Family Court.
The maximum penalty the court can impose is 18 months of detention in a state youth facility, although state officials could shorten or extend that depending on the boy’s conduct in custody or a variety of other factors.