Point Pleasant Beach motel fire blamed on cigarette

POINT PLEASANT BEACH CLICK HERE to see images from the scene.

The fire early Friday morning killed four people at the Jersey Shore motel.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato says more specifically the fire began in a stuffed chair in a smoking area on the second floor of the motel, located two blocks from the beach.

The Ocean County High Tech Crime Unit recovered critical video from the severely damaged motel surveillance system, Coronato said.

Investigators are continuing to analyze the recovered video, pre and post scene photos, along with interviews of motel guests and management.

The Medical Examiner autopsies of the four victims have concluded that the cause of death was due to smoke inhalation and the manner was accidental for all four victims.

To date the one victim positively identified is: John Alberti, 45, of Keansburg, NJ.

The three others, all New Jersey residents, are tentatively identified as: Paulo Martins, 20, of South River, Harold Ford, 52, of Twin Lake Heights/Neptune, Albert Sutton, 66, of Mount Laurel. The Medical Examiner is continuing the forensic investigation to definitively achieve positive identifications.

All next of kin have been notified.

The motel's guests included some people who were previously displaced by Superstorm Sandy in Oct. 2012.

James Giannuzzi had been staying at the motel as part of his temporary living arrangements since Sandy hit on Oct. 29, 2012, and flooded his Point Pleasant Beach apartment. After staying with a sister for a while, he rented a room at the motel during the winter.

He estimated that of the 40 people staying at the motel when the fire broke out, slightly more than half were either displaced Sandy victims or contractors drawn to the area by the region's bustling post-storm construction industry.

The surviving fire victims have been given temporary shelter in nearby motels.

Eight other people were injured in the fire. They include Keri Anderson, 42, of Keansburg, who had sought refuge in a shower with the water running while waiting to be rescued. Firefighters rescued her from a bathroom in the rear of the motel after dousing flames over her head and helping her down a ladder. She remained in critical condition in the burn unit of St. Barnabas Medical Center.

Also in that hospital's burn unit was Melanie Deieso, whose hometown was not available. The 22-year-old suffered second-degree burns to her legs.

The investigation also was expected to look into whether the motel had smoke detectors or alarms and whether they were working. Survivors gave conflicting accounts to The Associated Press on Friday of whether they heard alarms when the fire broke out.

The motel is a popular summer family vacation spot two blocks from the beach. But in the slower winter months, it, like the other dozen or so motels in Point Pleasant Beach, relies on people seeking low-cost rental units.

Some information from The Associated Press

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