By Dave Collins
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A man on fire yelled “I hope it was worth it” after apparently setting off an explosion that killed him and injured nine Connecticut police officers during a standoff last year, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
Although officials never determined the exact cause of the blast in North Haven on May 2, 2018, officers smelled a strong odor of gasoline, saw a light come on inside the barn where the man was holed up and heard what sounded like a motorcycle engine being revved shortly before the explosion, the records show.
The state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection released the state police report on the incident Wednesday, in response to a public records request made by the AP a few weeks after the explosion.
John Sayre Sr., 60, was killed in the blast in a barn behind his home on Quinnipiac Avenue, after police had tried to communicate with him for several hours. A regional SWAT team responded to the property after Sayre’s wife called police to report that she had escaped the home after being held hostage for several days, officials said. Deborah Sayre wasn’t injured.
“Due to the catastrophic damage, the exact area of the fire origin could not be determined and no single potential competent ignition source of this explosion and subsequent fire could be identified,” the state police report said. “The cause of this fire has been ruled UNDETERMINED.”
North Haven Fire Chief and Fire Marshal Paul Januszewski said Thursday that the theory among officials is that Sayre ignited a large container of gasoline. He said police officers did not fire any weapons at the barn.
“With some very high probability, we’re able to know that at least what was used was gasoline, but we’ll never know. It burned too much to ever know,” Januszewski said.
The force of the explosion blew the barn doors into the Sayres’ house. The debris injured nine officers, who were approaching the barn at the time, the records show. Some of the officers had to retire because of their injuries, authorities said. Januszewski said the blast was felt at his home about a mile and a half (2.4 kilometers) away.
As the barn erupted in flames, officers “reported seeing what they perceived to be a male victim on fire stumble or fall out the ... door on the side of the barn,” the report says. “They reported hearing the male yell something to the effect of “I hope it was worth it.” Officials later determined the person was Sayre.
The fire destroyed the barn, Sayre’s home and several vehicles on the property. Police and fire officials decided to let the fire burn because of concerns for firefighters’ safety that there may be more explosives in the barn, according to the report.
Sayre’s body was burned beyond recognition and officials had to use DNA samples from his son to confirm his identity, the report said.
Deborah Sayre had filed for divorce two weeks before the explosion, checking a box on a form that said the marriage had “broken down irretrievably.”
The explosion knocked officers off their feet. Officers’ weapons and other equipment were found scattered about the scene the day after.
The injured officers were members of a regional police tactical team and included five officers from East Haven, three from North Haven and one from Branford.
Januszewski said local fire officials learned several lessons from the explosion.
“It definitely raised awareness for us. It changed the way we respond to certain incidents,” he said. “In standoffs, it’s forced fire departments to begin to get involved early in the process in the event that a fire takes place.”