In double murder trial, court heard Rutherford’s bedroom was ‘essentially a bonfire’

Learn more about the Dundas arson attacks

The arsonist stood in their bedroom doorway and threw a flame at the accelerator poured out at the foot of their bed.

The flame – possibly from a match, lighter or candle – touched the vapor from the accelerator – possibly lighter fluid or paint thinner, barbecue fluid or kerosene – and immediately burst into flames.

The technical term for what happened next is a “flash fire”. A powerful brazier that burns quickly and hot.

“Your walls are on fire. Your ground is on fire. Your bed is on fire,” said provincial fire investigator Dave Emberlin, speaking directly to the jury. “The bedroom is basically a bonfire.”

“You go from a fire in a room to a room on fire.”

Alan and Carla Rutherford were in this room when it burst into flames around 3:30 a.m. Carla arrived in the hallway, where she died. Alan collapsed on the neighbor’s porch, but managed to use his last words to tell several witnesses that his stepson Rich “burned down” his childhood home. And he did it for the money.

Richard Taylor, 46, is on trial for two counts of first degree murder. He is accused of burning Carla, 64, and Alan, 63, alive in their Dundas home in order to inherit $400,000 from his mother’s estate. The jury heard that Rich, a married teacher with two young children, was in deep debt and was hiding it from his wife.

On the day of the fire, July 9, 2018, Rich owed at least $235,000. All the money he had access to was just $483.38.

Emberlin, who works with the Office of the Fire Marshal, spent two days examining the gutted ranch-style home at 8 Greening Crt. There was no roof or floor, so plywood had to be laid down for him to walk on.

“To have a fire, you need three things,” he told the jury. “A charge of fuel, oxygen, and a source of heat sufficient to ignite any fuel.”

He started at the scene by determining where the fire was coming from.

There was no “fire pattern” outside the house to support a “home zone” outside.

The fire broke out inside the house.

Although there was smoke and soot damage throughout the house, only one room had a fire pattern “to support an area of ​​origin”.

It was the master bedroom.

There, the fire had burned so intensely that the entire ceiling had collapsed and was “open to the sky”. He dug a hole in the ground so the basement could be seen. The drywall had collapsed. The wall studs were charred. The wall on the other side of the studs – in the bathroom – looked oddly white and clean.

Emberlin explained that when a fire burns long enough, it actually burns soot. This is called a clean burn.

Blood, a flashlight and a glass of water on the doorstep of Alan and Carla Rutherford's neighbor, where Alan went for help after a fire in their room.

“The window has completely disappeared. The frame is melted, the glass is gone, the whole window frame is gone. By the pieces of glass on the floor below the window, Emberlin determined that the bedroom window had been opened.

The bedroom door was also missing. Also open.

The only thing left of the queen bed was the metal frame and a few metal parts of the box spring. The mattress was completely incinerated.

“Direct flame impact” is the term for areas burned by flames.

But where exactly in the bedroom did the fire start?

The hole in the floor was at the foot of the bed. It was there, Emberlin testified, that it all started, burning longer and hotter than anywhere else.

Oxygen circulated between the open window and the open bedroom door to feed the flames.

Next, Emberlin had to determine the cause of the fire.

He got on all fours with a trowel and carefully dug through the debris. There were no faulty electrical wires in the room, he said.

He took samples of debris from various places in the room and sent them to the Center of Forensic Sciences in Toronto for analysis.

The results showed that the floor at the foot of the bed, on each side of the bed and under the bed had been soaked with a “middle petroleum distillate”. This is where flammable liquids come in. They produce a vapor that ignites instantly upon contact with a flame.

Richard Taylor is charged with the Rutherford homicides.

If poured on the ground, an arsonist could “light a match and throw it on the ground” to set the fire, Emberlin told the court.

He did not find a fuel canister or a broken bottle that could indicate a Molotov cocktail or a lighter.

“It’s a fire where there shouldn’t be,” Emberlin concluded. “It was an intentional fire. Which is arson.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Jennifer Penman, Emberlin was asked if the arsonist might have thrown a flame at the flammable liquid. What if the arsonist held out his hand to him, while holding the flame? Could they have done that, been burned and escaped?

Emberlin’s response was candid. “You couldn’t have been in the room and done that,” he said, “because you wouldn’t have gotten very far.”

Repeatedly during the trial, Penman asked witnesses who had seen Taylor in the days following the murders if they had noticed any burn marks on her body.

All the witnesses said no.

But the trial also saw security video of a nearby house taken in the minutes before the fire.

It shows a shadowy figure walking in the dark, then sparks of light descending to the ground.

Like someone who lights a match and throws it.

About Jessica J. Bass

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