"Impaired" man who fell asleep caused deadly March blaze in N.J. beach town

Investigators go through the rubble of a motel in Point Pleasant Beach N.J., on Saturday, March 22, 2014. Wayne Parry, AP

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. - A man "impaired" by opiates in his system fell asleep face down on a motel couch while smoking in March, touching off a fire that killed four people, authorities said Wednesday.

The Ocean County Prosecutors Office released its final report into the March 21 blaze at the Mariner's Cove Motel in Point Pleasant Beach, where the displaced included many people who had been left homeless by Superstorm Sandy a year and a half earlier.

Surveillance video from inside the motel shows John Alberti rummaging through seat cushions in a lounge. He later is shown face down on the couch with a lit cigarette. Alberti was among the four killed in the blaze.

An autopsy found the presence of opiates in his system, and Prosecutor Joseph Coronato listed the cause as "the impaired actions and careless use of smoking materials" by the 45-year-old man, who was a longtime resident of the motel two block from the beach.

The video shows him sleeping face-down on the couch with the glowing tip of the cigarette no longer visible. He then rouses himself, slapping himself in the face over and over again before getting up.

Smoke and flames erupted about 90 minutes later from the precise corner of the couch where Alberti's cigarette had been.

jersey-fire-ap606450856465.jpg
Firefighters work to put out a fire at Mariner's Cove Inn in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. early Friday, March 21, 2014. An early morning fire killed three people at the Jersey shore motel whose residents included Superstorm Sandy victims who were staying there because their homes remain uninhabitable nearly a year and a half after the storm, officials said. Three other people were critically injured in the blaze. Authorities said several other people may be unaccounted for. Investigators are interviewing motel management to determine how many people were staying there when the fire broke out. The motel's office was destroyed and most records were lost. (AP Photo/The Asbury Park Press, Tom Spader ) NO SALES
Photo: Tom Spader/Staff Photogra, AP

Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said uninterrupted video from the lounge area showed that no one else entered or left the room after Alberti exited.

Authorities previously said a cigarette discarded in a chair touched off the fire, which was declared accidental, but did not say who caused the fire or under what circumstances. The video was retrieved from a badly damaged surveillance system and analyzed by the prosecutor's High Tech Crime Unit. The camera that filmed the start of the fire and its rapid spread was eventually consumed by the flames.

The probe also found the motel had working smoke detectors in each room, and that it complied with all housing, building and fire codes.

In addition to Alberti, whose permanent address was in Keansburg, the fire also killed 20-year-old Paulo Martins, of South River; 52-year-old HaroldFord, of Neptune; and 66-year-old Albert Sutton, of Mount Laurel. Autopsies by the Ocean County Medical Examiner's Office determined that all four died from smoke inhalation.

One of the guests who escaped the fire, who had lost his home in Superstorm Sandy, 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.

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