WILKES-BARRE — A fire that claimed the life of Laurie Merritt last month was intentionally set, state police at Wyoming said Tuesday, while Luzerne County Coroner William Lisman said her death was an accident.
The disparity of the separate findings is unusual, which was noticed by District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.
Salavantis said the state police finding the fire was intentionally set contradicts the death certificate issued by Lisman.
“The District Attorney’s Office has scheduled meetings with all investigating agencies including Wilkes-Barre City who is the lead investigative department,” Salavantis stated.
Salavantis said she plans to review the findings of all the agencies to determine how two different conclusions were reached and upon what information each was based.
Merritt, 51, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 13 years, was found by city firefighters in a crawl space attic of her home at 276 Wyoming St., Wilkes-Barre, on April 14. She was rushed to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital where she died within one hour after she was found unresponsive inside her home.
Lisman said he is only permitted to release the cause and manner of death. He said he signed Merritt’s death certificate on May 19 listing the cause of death carbon monoxide intoxication due to a fire and the manner of death accidental.
Lisman said he was unaware state police had released their findings of an investigation.
The news release from state police issued Tuesday said: “Following the scene examination by several members of the PSP Fire Marshal Unit and the review of all evidence it was determined the fire was intentionally set.”
State police said the investigation is ongoing by city police.
City police on Tuesday obtained a search warrant signed by District Judge Martin Kane in Wilkes-Barre seeking user records of an Apple iPhone found next to Merritt in the attic. The iPhone was locked and password protected.
Immediately after the fatal fire, police obtained cellphone records of Paul Kosakowski, 60, a former Wilkes-Barre Township police detective, who was identified by Merritt’s family and neighbors as Merritt’s former boyfriend, according to another search warrant affidavit.
Kosakowski allegedly told police he spoke with Merritt on the phone at about 7 p.m. on April 14. He said she called him at his residence at 10:20 p.m. but he missed the call.
Kosakowski said he immediately called Merritt and said she told him she was “going to her attic to get stuff,” the affidavit says.
The affidavit says Kosakowski told police he received a call from Merritt’s neighbor at about 11:31 p.m. saying Merritt’s house was on fire. Kosakowski said he was at his house when he received the call from the neighbor.
Police also obtained Merritt’s cellphone records and computer communications in the hours before she died.