Up in Smoke

By Michael Blanding | Boston Magazine |

STATE TROOPER DAVID DOMINGOS ARRIVED in Taunton at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in 2001 to find the town green choked beneath a pall of thick gray smoke. Domingos, the State Fire Marshal Office’s chief investigator for the South Shore and Cape Cod, was wearing his “turnout gear” — fire hat, heavy reflective jacket, and flame-retardant boots — as he pushed his way through the police tape to where firefighters were braced on the sidewalk, aiming jets of water at a burning building.

The blaze had begun in the Main Street Lottery and News convenience store, he was told, spreading from there into a jewelry store and a sports-memorabilia shop that shared the small brick storefront. Heavy walls and a sturdy tin roof thwarted attempts to douse the flames for four hours. During that time, said one firefighter, the conditions inside were so intense that it was “like closing your eyes and sticking your head inside an oven.” Finally, the roof exploded from the intensity of the heat, collapsing into a hole through which the blaze could be extinguished.

Toward dusk, Domingos pushed his way through the broken glass in the front door to look inside the building, but was unable to get more than a few feet through the smoking debris. He settled for taking photos and witness statements at the scene, and returned early the next morning for a more thorough investigation. He and his crew removed timber after timber, looking for burn marks and charring patterns that might show where the fire had started. The investigation took them to the back, left wall of the shop. Domingos called over the K-9 officer, Doug Lynch, who was leading a black Lab named Billy around the scene. Billy pointed her nose to the ground below a telltale V-shaped pattern that often reveals a fire’s point of origin. She went into a seated position, indicating the presence of a liquid “accelerant” like gasoline. The fire, Domingos concluded, had been intentionally set.

That afternoon, Domingos sat in on an interrogation of Jimmy Hebshie, the store’s owner. Hebshie told Taunton police that he’d left his store at 1:30, just before the fire started. Domingos later testified in court that Hebshie also revealed he owed $3,500 to the state lottery commission. A few days after that, the store owner submitted a claim on his insurance policy, which was interpreted as a motive to burn down his shop. A year later, in May 2002, he was indicted for arson. It took four years for Hebshie to actually stand trial, given repeated delays related to his poor health, but when he finally did, a jury convicted him. “I know you’ve heard this many times before,” he said at his sentencing, his voice wavering as he read from a statement, “but I need to say this to you and the court: I am not guilty of this crime.”

Judge Nancy Gertner sentenced him to 15 years, starting in June 2007.

  • Ken

    My name is Ken Davis and I lived thru this horrible situation..A few important facts that were missed is that the disiltate found at the scene can be found in countless household items and was collected in a handful of dirt..and the dog asigned to investigate found nothing on any of my clothes or in my home or in my vehicle…lastly, I was already in custody before their investigation as to the cause to the fire was determined

  • Ken Sr.

    God bless you Jimmy Hebshie! You are deserving of your innocence and much more!

  • Ken Sr.

    Perhaps some day my son will also be exonerated and have have his name cleared as well.
    Thank you Michael for a great article and bringing to light the poor (at best) fire investigation by the states fire marshalls office.

  • Ken Sr.

    David Domingos refused to allow our investigator Mike Higgins to “TAKE and TEST” any samples from this scene. It was certainly within the rights of Mike Higgins to do so. Why would Domingos do that? A cover up so no one could dispute his report? Which by the way was the only written document submitted. No notes ever taken, only memory. And in that report Domingos states that the electrical was up to code and no evidence of beading wires however, during the trial pictures were shown him taken by our investigator and he identifies beading wires which IS an indicator of an electrical cause…CLEARLY!! Even an amature investigative student knows that!

  • Ken Sr.

    David Domingos contaminated, compromised and destroyed the scene of the Davis case before our investigator, Mike Higgins could make a professional and logical determination of the cause of this fire. Clearly Domingos had a predetermination in this case. He can’t even follow basic investigation procedures. The states fire marshalls office did a poor job in the Hebshie case as they did in the Davis case. Ever hear of “Kirk’s Fire Investigation Manual?” We have and read it cover to cover. Basic Fire Investigation 101 eludes David Domingos.

  • Ken Sr.

    The State Fire Marshals office headed by David Domingos and the Prosecutor defied and ignored a court order to preserve the scene and all evidence in the Davis case.