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Berkshire DA: Propane Tanks Used to Set Fire in Sheffield Murder-Suicide

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — The district attorney's office says there is "overwhelming evidence" suggesting that Luke Karpinski killed his wife and children before setting their Home Road residence on fire.
 
District Attorney Andrea Harrington said on Monday that Justine Wilbur, 41, was found dead on the first floor with signs of "a traumatic injury" that appears to have occurred prior to the start of the fire. Authorities also say they found an accelerant throughout the home, including two 20-pound propane tanks on the upper floors, used to start the blaze.
 
"This investigation is complex and ongoing, but we have uncovered overwhelming evidence suggesting that Luke Karpinski killed his wife and children prior to committing suicide," Harrington said.
 
The family of five were all found dead Wednesday morning after first-responders extinguished a fire at the home. Authorities found Wilbur on the first floor of the home and the other four upstairs. 
 
Investigators say they did not find any firearms in the home but the autopsy results with the cause of deaths were not available Monday from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
 
The fire was reported at about 7:50 Wednesday morning.
 

Original Post: Berkshire DA: Sheffield Fire Being Investigated as Murder-Suicide

March 14, 2019, at 6:46 p.m


Numerous volunteer fire departments responded to the scene Wednesday morning.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The District Attorney's office is investigating the fire that left a family of five dead as a murder-suicide.

 

First responders were called to 1343 Home Road shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday morning to a structure fire.
 
After it was extinguished, investigators found Justine Wilbur dead and later found the bodies of her husband, Luke Karpinski, and the family's three children, 7-year-old twins Alex and Zoe and Marek, age 3. 
 
On Thursday, District Attorney Andrea Harrington said it appears as though Karpinski had killed his family.
 
"Five individuals including three young children died Wednesday morning that burned at 1343 Home Road in Sheffield. Among the deceased were Luke Karpinski, his wife Justine Wilbur, both 41, who lived in the home with their 3-year-old and 7-year-old twins," Harrington said.
 
"We are investigating this matter as a murder-suicide. At this time, the evidence indicates that Luke Karpinski was the assailant."
 
Harrington said little more but assured the public that "there is no reason to believe the public is in danger at this time." She would not reveal the cause of the deaths but said the bodies have been transferred to the chief medical examiner's office in Boston.
 
Harrington also would not reveal anything regarding weapons or whether the individuals had died before or during the fire.
 
The investigation into the circumstances around the incident are being investigated by the Massachusetts State Police and the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Volunteer fire companies from around the region responded to aid the Sheffield Fire Department: Great Barrington, New Marlborough, Richmond, Egremont and Monterey, and Connecticut companies of North Fork and Canaan. 
 
The family had purchased the property in 2016 and had recently built the house on the thinly settled country road. Karpinski was a patent examiner for the federal government for more than a decade and Wilbur an attorney in patent law at Hoffman Warnick in Albany, N.Y., and held degrees in chemistry before earning her law degree. 
 
Hoffman Warnick described Wilbur in a statement as "a talented attorney" who "was smart, knowledgeable, dedicated and hardworking."
 
"It is with grief and immeasurable sorrow that we learned of the death of our friend and colleague Justine M. Wilbur, who died with her family yesterday in Sheffield, Massachusetts," the firm stated. 
 
Beth Regulbuto, superintendent of schools for the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, apprised the school community by email on Wednesday night that the crisis team would be meeting on Thursday morning "to discuss the best ways possible to provide support during school tomorrow." She said the district would have more counselors on hand and that faculty and staff would be providing "developmentally appropriate messages."


     

Five Dead in Sheffield Structure Fire

Staff Reports

Multiple fire departments responded to the single-family home on Home Road.
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Authorities are investigating a Wednesday morning structure fire on Home Road that left five people dead. 
 
"This is an extensive operation and investigation with multiple local and state agencies," said Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington at a brief press conference around 2:30 p.m. at Town Hall. "It's going to take us some time before we can get you more information."
 
Harrington said the fire at 1343 Home Road was fully involved when responders arrived on scene and was knocked down at about 9:15 on Wednesday morning and determined extinguished an hour later. 
 
Preliminary search efforts uncovered "the presence of a deceased individual" and further recovery efforts found four more bodies, she said. The state fire marshal and the state police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office are working with local officials on the investigation. 
 
Harrington declined to take any questions, asking for patience as the investigation was made and promising to provide information as it became available. 
 
The identities of the deceased have not been released. The property is listed in the Registry of Deeds as being owned by Luke E. Karpinski and Justine Wilbur. 
 
Home Road, a thinly settle country road that parallels Route 7, will be closed near the single-family house through Thursday because of the investigation. The location is roughly at the midpoint of the road within the Sheffield town border. 
 
According to @CTNewsAlert, a breaking news site covering northern Connecticut, mutual aid was called in about 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning, with North Fork, Conn., firefighters being called to the scene. A second alarm and more tankers from Litchfield County were responded minutes later. 
 
Volunteer fire companies from around the region responded to aid the Sheffield Fire Department: Great Barrington, New Marlborough, Richmond, Egremont and Monterey, and Connecticut companies of North Fork and Canaan. 
 
Beth Regulbuto, superintendent of schools for the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, apprised the school community by email on Wednesday night that the crisis team would be meeting on Thursday morning "to discuss the best ways possible to provide support during school tomorrow." She said the district would have more counselors on hand and that faculty and staff would be providing "developmentally appropriate messages."
     

Police Investigating Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash in Sheffield

SHEFFIELD, Mass. — A Mount Everett Regional School graduate died as a result of injuries sustained in a single-car motor vehicle crash late Thursday night.
 
According to a release from the Berkshire district attorney's office, Jesus A. Santos, 19, of Lakeville, Conn., lost control of the motor vehicle he was driving on Berkshire School Road at about 11:32 p.m. Thursday.
 
Santos was alone in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
 
The accident occurred about a mile from where a Sheffield Police officer attempted, unsuccessfully, to execute a stop for a motor vehicle violation of the vehicle that Santos was operating. His body was transported from the scene to the Holyoke office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
 
In an email on Friday afternoon to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District community, Superintendent Beth Regulbuto, wrote that "it is with a heavy heart that I am writing to the SBRSD School Community to let you know that a former graduate was killed last evening in a car accident near the school on Berkshire School Road." 
 
Regulbuto said she received notification of the fatality on Friday morning and that the district's crisis team met first thing in the morning and held a follow-up meeting in the afternoon. 
 
"Please know that there are and will continue to be supports in place that are accessible for any faculty member, staff member, or student that may need to access them," she said. "Our thoughts are with his family at this incredibly difficult time."
 
The accident remains under investigation by members of the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire district attorney's office, the state police's Collision Analysis and Reconstruction and Crime Scene Services sections,  troopers from the Lee barracks and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
     

Possible Abduction Attempt in South Berkshire

Staff Reports

NEW MARLBOROUGH, Mass. — Parents in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District are being advised to be alert after a possible abduction attempt Thursday afternoon.

Authorities say the incident happened about 3:30 on Norfolk Road in New Marlborough as an 11-year-old boy walked home from school.

The boy told investigators he was approached by a man in a gray, four-door car with blue and white New York license plates.

The driver was described as a white man, approximately 30 to 40 years old with a thin build and medium-length black hair that looked a little shaggy.

Anyone who might have seen a vehicle matching this description is asked to call the state police barracks in Lee at 413-243-0600.

In a letter to parents, Mount Everett Regional School Principal Glenn Devoti said the suspicious man "may have attempted to abduct a 6th grade elementary student."

The police and bus company were notified, wrote Devoti.

The New Marlborough Police Department, state police detectives assigned to the district attorney's Office and state troopers from the Lee barracks are investigating.

"Please be cautious about leaving students unsupervised at bus stops and notify police or school personnel if you observe anyone matching this description or observe any other suspicious behavior," he asked.

Lanesborough Police were also looking for a New York vehicle earlier this week, that one a red sedan, possibly a late 1990s model similar to a Pontiac Grand Am, and operated by an older white man with facial hair.

In that case, police said the car had been seen around school bus stops in Lanesborough and they wished to speak with the operator.

     

Connecticut Man Pleads Guilty In Fatal Sheffield Crash

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Sandy Hook, Conn., man pleaded guilty Thursday morning in Berkshire Superior Court to motor vehicle homocide and his fifth offense of drunken driving in connection with an accident that claimed the life of a South County woman.  

Frederick J. Weller, 36, will have to serve 15 to 18 years in Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction.

Weller was accused of drunkenly smashing his truck into two vehicles, killing Moira Banks-Dobson, 24, and seriously injuring Russell Brown, then 52, on Feb. 28, 2012. Weller was northbound in his F-350 on Route 7 in Sheffield when he hit Brown's Dodge Neon head-on in the southbound lane and then ended up on top of Banks-Dobson's Toyota Corolla. He tried to flee the scene and threatened people trying to stop him.

Appearing before Judge John Agostini, Weller pleaded guilty to single counts of motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and operating to endanger; operating under the influence of alcohol, serious bodily injury and operating to endanger; operating under the influence of alcohol (5th offense); intimidation of a witness or other person; leaving the scene of a personal injury accident, death resulting; and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of leaving the scene of a property damage accident and one count of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.

Agostini ordered that he serve a 12- to 14-year state prison sentence at Cedar Junction on the charge of motor vehicle homicide while under the influence of alcohol and operating to endanger. He was given a 3- to 4-year state prison sentence, to be served on and after the first sentence, on the operating under the influence of alcohol, serious bodily injury and operating to endanger charge. He was given concurrent jail time on the other charges.       

The investigation was conducted by members of the Sheffield Police Department.

     
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