Plea ends trial in Salem blast that killed six

Man to serve 1 to 3 for causing explosion

November 15, 2012
Updated 7:12 p.m.
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Investigators work at the scene of an explosion that killed six people in Salem in July 2011.
Investigators work at the scene of an explosion that killed six people in Salem in July 2011.

— The man on trial for a house explosion in the town of Salem that killed six people, including his girlfriend, gave up his defense Thursday in Washington County Court.

Steven McComsey, 33, a survivor of the July 13, 2011, explosion, agreed to a plea deal that requires him to serve 1 to 3 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 13.

According to Washington County District Attorney Kevin C. Kortright, McComsey agreed to an Alford plea for criminally negligent homicide. Under this type of agreement, the defendant doesn’t admit to the crime, but is essentially acknowledging that there is enough evidence present for a jury to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of his guilt.

McComsey had been facing six counts of second-degree manslaughter.

Kortright said the deal, once McComsey agreed to it, was presented to the victims’ next of kin for approval, as well.

“Hopefully it will give the family some closure,” he said.

Killed in the blast were: Darrell Durham, 20; his 2-month-old daughter, Niah; Robert Sanford, 16, McComsey’s nephew; Lawrence Berg Jr., 19; Tammy Palmer, 41, McComsey’s girlfriend; and Clarissa Lyn Porlier, 19, who was visiting.

The baby’s mother, Alicia Berg, 21, was badly injured but survived. Additional survivors were Brianna Berg, 17, Daniel Wilcox, 43, and Chelsey Wilcox, 15. The Wilcoxes were also visiting the residence.

McComsey was indicted for the incident in June. The eight-count indictment stated he was responsible for releasing propane into the basement of his rented, two-story house. The gas was then ignited by a water heater switch, and the explosion shattered the house.

The indictment came after a grand jury heard more than four weeks of testimony, including details surrounding more than 100 interviews conducted during the 10-month investigation.

The indictment did not suggest McComsey intended to kill anyone, but accused him of reckless actions.

Witnesses who saw the explosion said it lifted the entire house into the air and scattered pieces over Route 29.

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