Investigation into Church Fire Continues

On Tuesday, November 26, 2013, at approximately 9:25 a.m., Ocean City Communications received a call for a fire at St. Paul’s by the Sea.  Ocean City Fire Department personnel responded to the scene, which is located at 302 North Baltimore Avenue, and found fire coming from the rectory building upon their arrival.

The initial investigation determined that the fire originated in the area of the ground floor pantry and porch space of the Shepherd’s Crook facility, which is located in the rectory building.  The exact cause of the fire is still actively under investigation, however; preliminary findings by investigators indicate that John Raymond Sterner, 56, of Ocean City, entered the structure with a significant amount of fire on and about his person, quickly spreading the fire to the structure.

Investigators suspect an accelerant was involved in the quick spread of the fire, which claimed the life of Sterner. Sterner was deceased inside of the building upon arrival of the Fire Department.

A female victim, whose name is not being released, sustained injuries attempting to exit the Shepherd’s Crook facility of the structure.  She was treated on the scene by paramedics and ultimately transported to John’s Hopkins Bayview Medical Center where she is still being treated.

The fire also claimed the life of St. Paul’s by the Sea’s Reverend, David Dingwall.  Fire Department personnel located Rev. Dingwall during a primary search of the second floor of the building, where they experienced heavy smoke and heat conditions.  Reverend Dingwall, who was unconscious at the time, was quickly removed from the building, treated on the scene by paramedics and transported to Atlantic General Hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries.

The remains of Rev. Dingwall and Sterner have been taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland in Baltimore for autopsy to determine the manner and cause of death.

“Today was a very tragic day for our community,” said Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore.  “We are thankful for the numerous agencies that assisted us during our response and especially thankful for all of the public safety personnel who helped prevent this fire from claiming more lives.”

Initial damage assessments indicate significant fire damage of the first and second floor office, in addition to smoke and overhaul damage throughout the first floor of the rectory building.  The worship center and Red Doors Community Center, which are located within St. Paul’s by the Sea, experienced minimal to no significant damage.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation by the Ocean City Fire Department’s Fire Marshal’s Office and the Ocean City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division.  The Maryland State Fire Marshal and Worcester County Fire Marshal are also assisting in the investigation. Anyone with information regarding the fire, including photograph or video taken before the arrival of the Fire Department, is asked to contact the Ocean City Police Department at 410.723.6610.