Two fires that erupted on Dauphin Island over the weekend are being investigated by state and federal authorities amid what sources are calling curious circumstances. One man died during the incident, according to witnesses, when he apparently collapsed and stopped breathing after repeated entries to one of the burning buildings.
According to town officials, the Dauphin Island Volunteer Fire Department received a call to Dauphin Island BBQ at 906 Bienville Blvd. at approximately midnight Aug. 29. As crews responded, a second call was received for a fire at a residence at 2235 Sandpiper St.
Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said the simultaneous fires led the department to call for mutual aid from nearby departments and “a big outpouring of help” contained the second fire — on a small peninsula where houses are in close proximity — to just four houses which were declared a total loss.
The day after, the local department turned the investigation over to the Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. While neighbors suggested the fires started under suspicious circumstances, neither Collier nor other town officials would corroborate many of the allegations and as of Tuesday afternoon, the victim’s name had not been publicly released.
However, one person with some inside knowledge of the initial investigation, Dauphin Island town attorney Robert Campbell, joined two anonymous witnesses in confirming it was 43-year-old John Robert Sealy, the son of Kay Sealy, the homeowner listed on tax records.
A second address listed for John Robert Sealy and registered to Kay Sealy on tax records — in a residential neighborhood off Pleasant Valley Road in Mobile — was littered with debris Monday when visited by a reporter. The front door was blocked by lawn furniture, appliances and garbage bags.
Collier did confirm the Dauphin Island Sealy house was in a state of disrepair and several years ago had been the site where an occupant was injured after a 20-foot tall balcony collapsed. One neighbor, whose own house was damaged by heat and asked to remain anonymous, said the Sealy house was in a constant state of decline, and in recent weeks may have been issued citations from the town’s building inspector.
“After the deck collapsed, they just picked up the pieces and piled them next to the house,” the neighbor said. “I filed a complaint then, but more recently, the grass had grown four feet tall, windows were broken and whoever was staying there had piled about 14 bags of garbage on the stairs rather than put it on the curb or in a trash can. Every other house on that street was nice.”Neither Collier nor Dauphin Island Building Inspector Corey Moore would corroborate the complaints or citations, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the case — and the one that has nearly the entire island talking — is that the barbecue restaurant that caught fire just prior to the house was owned in part by Corey Moore, the building inspector.
Sealy himself is no stranger to the law. In July, he accepted a plea deal with Mobile County prosecutors for felony possession of marijuana, garnering a 13-month suspended sentence. According to Assistant District Attorney Grant Gibson, Sealy was originally charged with trafficking, which would have resulted in a substantially longer sentence, but the charge was reduced after investigators determined they could not legally charge Sealy with the entire amount of marijuana shared by a co-defendant in the case.According to court records, Sealy was charged separately in February for possession of a controlled substance after he brought his girlfriend, who was overdosing on crystal meth, to Providence Hospital. Gibson said that charge did not result in the revocation of Sealy’s bond for the marijuana offense, and had since been bound over to a grand jury.
The neighbor cited previously said there had also been a random cast of characters visiting the house, coming and going at all hours, and working on a “relic, worthless, 1970s bass boat” in the carport.
“They’d fire up the engine at 3 a.m. and it would sound like 10 chainsaws,” he said.
Campbell said Collier spoke with at least two people who were at the residence when the fire started, and they suggested it was the result of ongoing work on the boat. Noting that the information he was providing was “complete hearsay,” Campbell said the individuals tried to combat the accidental fire initially with an extinguisher, but they found it didn’t work.
Campbell, who emphasized he had no knowledge of the ongoing investigation, agreed the simultaneous fires and connection to the building inspector were a “heck of a coincidence.” But speaking in general terms, he said several residences damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina had become nuisance properties on the island, abandoned by their owners. He said if inspections do generate a valid violation of ordinances, “Corey or someone he sent out” would issue a citation with an attached fine. Unresolved cases where properties become a threat to the safety or welfare of the general public may ultimately lead to their demolition.
Meanwhile, Collier said he was satisfied with the emergency response, and noted the situation could have been much worse.
“I’m just hopeful the investigation will determine what the cause of these fires were and people can rebuild their lives or livelihood,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate loss of property and unfortunate to lose the individual as well.”
The Dauphin Island Town Council meets tonight in its regular session at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, 1011 Bienville Blvd.