Women’s Apartment Door ‘Covered’
On Floor Below Where Hero Died
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – A burned spray can was found outside the door of a woman’s apartment at 5 Walling Ave., state investigators told City Judge Lucy Bernier during testimony today.
And the bottom of Heather Engler’s door was “covered,” state Fire Investigator Christopher Lupold testified.
The testimony suggests the woman may have been the target, rather than the man who died: John D. Heller, 38, who was asleep one floor up with his fiancée and his four nephews.
The spray can, burned beyond recognition, was found amid the debris found during the investigation into the fire that killed the former Oneonta firefighter who helped the four boys and fiancée Amber Roe escape before succumbing to the fire.
“He was found collapsed at the window,” said Lupold. Heller was later pronounced dead at Fox Hospital.
At the beginning of the investigation. Detective Sgt. Branden Collison testified, Truitt allegedly told him that he hadn’t gone into the building and that he “never saw Heather.” But later in the questioning, he told Collison that he had seen her in her apartment that night.
Engler’s stepmother, Rochelle Denise Smith-Engler, posted on Facebook that her stepdaughter was a victim of domestic violence. “As by now most are aware my step daughter Heather Marie Engler was a victim of the Walling Street fire in Oneonta,” she wrote on Jan. 2. “What most don’t know is she’s a victim of domestic violence.”
Lupold testified last Friday that the fire began “at the base of the second floor stairwell” in the building. “The damage from the fire was mostly in the center of the building,” he said. “And not at the ends of it.”
Heller and Roe lived on the third floor, and the fire is believed to have quickly traveled up the staircase to their apartment.
Additionally, Truitt’s brother, Gabriel, remains a person of interest in the case, according to Police Chief Doug Brenner. “The investigation continues very active at this point,” he said. “We’re making sure we’ve exhausted all leads.”
Judge Bernier determined that there was “enough hearsay evidence” for the case to go before a grand jury, and ordered Truitt to be held until the grand jury was convened.