By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
A poorly discarded cigarette or match is believed to have started a fire that killed three family members and a fourth person Tuesday morning, authorities said.
Sheridan Banovich, 63; her daughter, Deidre, 23; Deidre’s boyfriend, Anthony Cadalzo, 25; and Banovich’s sister, Denise DuSold, 60, all died in the early-morning fire, Christopher Gramiccioni, of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, said.
The fifth person in the house and lone survivor of the blaze was identified as Stephen Banovich, 63, Sheridan Banovich’s husband.
The cause of the fire, at 135 Statesir Place, is suspected to be a result of improper disposal of a cigarette or lighting material, Gramiccioni said.
The fire started in a metal wastebasket in a spare bedroom on the first floor of the two-story, split-level home, he said.
By noon, authorities were clear of the scene, and neighbors stood outside in a light drizzle, talking with one another and giving interviews to television and radio news reporters from New Jersey and New York.
One neighbor, Ted Magee, said he and his wife, Carol, were awakened at around 3 a.m. to the sound of Stephen Banovich screaming for help in the street.
“He was out yelling and trying to get somebody’s attention,” Magee said.
The Banovich’s neighbor directly across the street, Tom Nitti, came outside around the same time as Magee. He said Banovich was hysterical.
“He was saying he couldn’t believe it, talking about death,” Nitti, 16, said. “It was really bad.”
Just as shocking to Nitti was the fiery tableau in front of him, he said, with flames shooting out of the two-story home into a dark, early-morning sky.
“It was coming up from the windows, the side of the house, stuff falling down,” he said. “It was huge, like something in the movies.”
Magee, who was friendly with the Banovich’s, said the fire was unlike anything he’s ever seen. He was sure the chances of surviving such a heavy blaze were slim.
“Flames were shooting way up in the sky, 30, 40 feet high maybe,” Magee, who’s lived on Statesir Place 11 years, said. “The whole thing was engulfed. There was no way they were coming out.”
Early Tuesday afternoon, a light rain fell upon the front yard of the Banovich’s home, which was already soaked and muddy from the fire department’s earlier efforts to extinguish the fire, which took nearly an hour. Soiled piles of brightly clothes lined the yard, starkly contrasting against the once light-blue home’s charred exterior and blown-out windows.
An occasional wind blew through the neighborhood, wafting a light odor of charred wood along a street lined with similar two-stories.
The six-alarm blaze was called in at 3:03 a.m. Gramiccioni said, and was extinguished at 4 a.m. by six Middletown fire companies.
No criminal involvement is suspected in the fire, he said. The Prosecutor’s Office will continue its investigation.
Nitti, who was friends with Deidre Banovich, still couldn’t believe what happened Tuesday, nearly 10 hours after awoke to the horror across the street.
“It’s hard to believe. I’ve known them for eight years,” he said. “They were good people. It’s terrible.”