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I Team 10 Update: Holiday Inn fatal fire investigation

Posted at: 11/26/2012 4:59 PM
Updated at: 11/26/2012 6:20 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

nullI-Team 10 is learning new information tonight about the investigation into a fatal hotel fire in Greece that killed 10 people in 1978. Today is the 34th anniversary of the Holiday Inn fire which was ruled an arson. No one was ever arrested and last year Greece Police announced that they were taking a new look at the case.

Since then, police investigators have followed up on more than 200 leads, and they recently briefed the district attorney on the evidence they have collected to date. But we've also learned they still have not yet interviewed Fire Chief Bud Phillips...considered a person of interest in this case.

Still, the police chief tells me they are getting closer to wrapping up.

"Now there's some additional testing that we wanted to do and is currently being done by the ATF off-site that's being done down south where they're doing a series of controlled burns for example, just to eliminate all possible other reasons. But the experts have told us and they're willing to testify in court that this is an arson fire," said Greece Police chief Todd Baxter.

It was November 26, 1978 at 2:30 in the morning. The hotel was full that night, 200 sleeping guests including a Canadian tour group on a shopping trip. Heavy smoke and flames filled the hallways and rooms, ultimately leaving 10 people dead. Yet, no one has been held accountable for setting the fire.

Here in a conference room at Greece Police headquarters, there are boxes and files and stacks of photos. Each folder represents a lead in the case. Police have chased down more than 200 of them during their renewed efforts. Some more valuable than others.

"We did spend a lot of time leading down paths or we'd hear innuendos or we'd find witnesses that could tell us about someone that knew something that night, and we spent a lot of time even going out of state, going to different places and interviewing people and finding out they didn't lead to anything factual," said Baxter.

Much of the investigation has undoubtedly focused on the statements of a young firefighter who was off-duty that night and called in to report the fire, saying he saw the flames while driving by on ridge road.
 
That man, Harold "Bud" Phillips, is now the chief of the Ridge Road Fire District.

The police chief last year called Phillips a person of interest in the Holiday Inn arson case saying he was someone they would like to re-interview.

And when I-Team 10 spoke with Phillips in May of last year, he said he intended to share with police everything he remembers about the case.

"As the fire chief of the Ridge Road Fire District, I'm supportive of opening the investigation again. It's been opened a couple times. I support them looking at it again, and as I did in 1978, I, as well as the department, will fully cooperate with them," said Phillips then.

But when contacted today, Phillips said he has still not been asked to come in and speak with investigators. We asked the police chief why not.

"We have not extended the invitation yet. It's definitely on our list of things to do. But when it comes to investigation techniques and it comes to investigative procedures, you get as much information as possible before you do any other interviews," said Baxter.

When we spoke to Phillips last year about the investigation, he said despite the arson ruling and evidence that an industrial cleaning solution was used as an accelerant, he still believes to this day the fire was not intentionally set.