101519 WES Fatal fire Tum-Alum Drive 293.JPG

Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey takes a call in front of 54 Tum-A-Lum Circle, which was heavily damaged by fire Monday afternoon, Oct. 14, 2019, and where the body of Patricia Martell was found Tuesday morning, Oct. 15, 2019. An autopsy performed Wednesday failed to determine the cause of Martell's death. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WAKEFIELD — The estate of a Westerly woman whose body was found in the rubble after a fire at her house in October on Columbus Day is suing the estate of the woman's son, claiming he caused his mother's death.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the estate of Patricia Martell, avers Scott P. Martell, her son, went to her residence on Oct. 14, 2019, "and acted so as to intentionally or negligently injure and harm his mother so as to proximately cause her death."

Patricia Martell's body was found in the basement of her fire-ravaged home at 54 Tum-A-Lum Circle on the morning of Oct. 15. Emergency officials were initially unable to enter the house because of the strength of the fire and structural damage it caused. Police used a neighbor's security camera footage to determine when both Martells arrived to the residence on the day of the fire.

After leaving his mother's house, Scott P. Martell drove to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the "Q" Bridge, in New Haven, and jumped off. He was found unconscious, never regained consciousness, and died at Yale New Haven Hospital from injuries caused by the jump.

An autopsy by the Rhode Island Department of Health determined Patricia Martell died as a result of "smoke inhalation and thermal injuries due to a house fire" and listed the manner of death as homicide, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Washington County Superior Court on Monday. Court records indicated a response had not been filed as of Thursday, and no lawyer was listed for Scott B. Martell, the administrator of Scott P. Martell's estate, or for the estate itself. Scott B. Martell was Scott P. Martell's father and Patricia Martell's ex-husband. Martell could not be reached for comment for this article.

In the lawsuit, Cheryl Vars, in her capacity as administratrix of Patricia Martell's estate, seeks a judgment against Scott P. Martell's estate for Patricia Martell's "injuries, damages, and death" as well as punitive damages. Cheryl Vars is Patricia Martell's sister. Wilfred Vars, father of Cheryl Vars and Patricia Martell, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Patrica Martell, who was 59 at the time of her death, was a nurse at Westerly Hospital.

During an interview Thursday, Micheal Lynch, the lawyer who represents Cheryl Vars and Wilfred Vars, said the lawsuit was needed to prevent Patricia Martell's estate from going to her ex-husband. The lawsuit will assert a claim under the state's Slayer Act, which prohibits slayers or their estates from benefiting from the slayer's act, Lynch said.

In addition to the Rhode Island Department of Health's classification of the manner of Patricia Martell's death as homicide, Lynch said the state Fire Marshal's Office ruled the cause of the fire was arson and that it had been set in the middle of the floor in the basement. Lynch said he had no knowledge of Scott P. Martell's motive for starting the fire. 

Westerly Police, following the fire, said they had responded to the Tum-A-Lum Circle residence several times over years for assessments and well-being checks related to Scott P. Martell, Patricia's son, who police said struggled with mental illness.

"Mrs. Martell had always been supportive in trying to render assistance to her son and was pretty much alone in that," Lynch said.

Patricia Martell and her father, Wilfred Vars, were very close prior to her death, Lynch said. "He has suffered terribly," Lynch said.

After graduating from Westerly High School, Scott P. Martell, who was 22 when he died, attended Three Rivers Community College in Norwich to pursue a certificate in computer-aided drafting, according to his obituary.

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