Ocean City Investigators Release Findings of Fire Investigation

IMG_3911(December 3, 2013) – 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.

Investigators determined that the fire originated on the body of John Raymond Sterner, 56, of Ocean City, who entered the structure with a significant amount of fire on and about his person.  The fire quickly spread from Sterner to the structure. The cause of the fire is classified by the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office as “incendiary.”

The investigation revealed that prior to the fire; Sterner purchased gasoline, which investigators believe he then put on his body.  The gasoline is believed to have acted as an accelerant and was responsible for the quick spread of the fire.  Sterner was deceased inside of the building upon arrival of the Fire Department.

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.  Rev. Dingwall, who was unconscious at the time, was quickly removed from the building, treated on-scene by paramedics and transported to Atlantic General Hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that the manner of Rev. Dingwall’s death was homicide caused by smoke inhalation. In regards to Sterner, the Medical Examiner ruled his death to be suicide by way of thermal burns and smoke inhalation.

A female victim, whose name is not being released, also sustained injuries while attempting to exit the Shepherd’s Crook facility during the fire. She was treated by paramedics’ on-scene and ultimately transported to John’s Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Her current condition is unknown, however; she is still being treated for her injuries at John’s Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

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.

“Our community has experienced unimaginable tragedy,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.  “Our community, as a whole, mourns the loss of Father David. All of our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this very sad time.  He will be forever remembered for making Ocean City a better place.”