WESTERLY — The body of a woman was found Tuesday morning in the basement of her fire-ravaged home less than 12 hours after her 22-year-old son took his own life by jumping off the Q Bridge in New Haven.
Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said the body of Patricia A. Martell, 59, who worked as a nurse at Westerly Hospital, was badly burned from the fire, which heavily damaged the two-story, yellow colonial at 54 Tum-A-Lum Circle on Monday afternoon, but the medical examiner’s office has not yet determined her cause of death. An autopsy is planned for Wednesday morning.
According to Lacey, officers had responded to the house several times over the years for assessments and well-being checks related to Scott Martell, Patricia’s son, who had struggled with mental health issues.
Patricia Martell’s body was recovered from the home’s finished basement. The body of a small dog was discovered on the second floor.
The fire, which was called in at about 4:27 p.m. Monday, was at first concentrated at the rear basement level of the house where a bedroom was located, Lacey said. Soon after responding, firefighters and police heard a popping sound and noticed that a natural gas pipe had ruptured, causing flames and the gas to shoot up the side of the house.
By viewing a neighbor’s security camera footage, Lacey said, police established a timeline of events before the fire.
“The video indicates a vehicle registered to (Patricia Martell) pull into the driveway a short time prior to the fire, and a vehicle believed to be the owner’s son parked on the roadway in front of their residence approximately 10 minutes later,” Lacey said in a news release late Tuesday. “The investigation revealed the son’s vehicle left the residence prior to the arrival of police and fire personnel.”
On Monday evening, after firefighters extinguished the blaze, police set about trying to locate and notify Martell, the home’s owner, and her son, both of whom lived at the home.
Lacey said the department pinged the Martells’ cell phones, and the pings indicated that Patricia Martell’s phone was within 1.26 miles of the cell tower at 60 Airport Road, but Scott’s was in Guilford, Conn. Westerly PD notified Connecticut State Police to be on the lookout for him, and troopers soon located the younger Martell’s car parked on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the “Q” bridge, in New Haven.
Troopers quickly discovered that Martell had jumped off the bridge into the Quinnipiac River, just hours after the fire had been first reported on Tum-A-Lum Circle.
Scott Martell was found semi-conscious under the bridge in a shallow, rocky area and was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he died from his injuries Tuesday afternoon. Westerly Police detectives drove to Yale-New Haven to question Martell Monday night, but he never regained consciousness.
By late Monday night, police still had not located Patricia Martell and obtained a search warrant for the house, but were unable to inspect the interior because of structural damage caused by the fire.
On Tuesday morning, a special hazardous material response team from the Warwick Fire Department arrived and installed bracing to keep the floors from collapsing while police, a K-9 team from the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal’s Office investigated and inspected the inside of the house, leading to the discovery of Patricia Martell.
The house was ruled a total loss and was torn down Tuesday afternoon.
A caring mom
Lani Kelley, who lives near the Martells on Tum-A-Lum Circle, said she had worked with Patricia at Westerly Hospital for about 10 years.
“We’re both nurses," Kelley said. "I worked with her at the hospital and she’s a neighbor and a friend."
Monday's series of events were stunning, she said.
“I just want to reflect on the fact that she was a wonderful mother and nurse and how caring she was,” Kelley said.
Kelley said she had never met her friend’s son, but she was aware of his struggle with mental health.
“I always had concerns and prayers. She never gave up on him, because mothers don’t give up,” Kelley said.