Nearly one week after Hurricane Sandy knocked out most of Long Island's electrical grid, one Glen Cove neighborhood lost much more than its power.
A deadly fire swept through the Whitney Circle home of Lewis and Sally Bodi Sunday night after 87-year-old Lewis Bodi, a WWII veteran and former dean of York College-CUNY, had an accident with a kerosene lamp.
James Cossaro lives next door with his wife, Rekha, and sons Tristin, 15, and Brandon, 12. They had returned home around 7 p.m. Sunday as power had just been restored. It went out again two hours later.
Cossaro had heard that a utility pole fire had ignited nearby when the power was turned on, so he took his two sons out for a ride to investigate. Returning home, the boys went to their rooms to prepare for bed. The family soon heard Tristin calling from his room: someone outside was yelling fire.
They ran outside to find Sally, 85, in the front yard, shoeless and with her hair "completely singed."
"She was in the front yard holding two glasses of water, to put out the fire," said Rekha. "They had just a little bit of water left in them."
Sally told them her husband was inside, and that she "didn't think he would make it."
Rekha and her sons helped Sally to their car to keep warm. She told them she had been upstairs getting to bed when she heard her husband yell from downstairs: "I'm on fire!" He had been handling a kerosene lamp.
"He had a terrible tremor," Rekha said.
Sally reported that she had made it downstairs to find her husband and the rug around him engulfed in flames.
Cossaro said he saw a black SUV pull up and a man jump out yelling into a radio.
"As he came more into the light I could see it was Mayor Suozzi," Cossaro said.
Suozzi said he had been driving in the neighborhood trying to figure out why the power had gone out again. Upon arriving, he tried the front door but it was too hot.
"Where's Lew?" he called to Sally. She responded that he was in the family room to the rear of the house. Cossaro and Suozzi, who was a volunteer firefighter between 1983 and 1994, ran to the back door where Suozzi used his elbow to break the glass near the handle. Thick black smoke from the hole forced Suozzi back, so Cossaro reached in and unlocked the door, cutting his hand on jagged glass in the process. Cossaro said he opened the door and was met with an impassable wall of black smoke.
Responders began to arrive. Glen Cove Volunteer Fire Department chief Phil Grella sent Suozzi and Glen Cove EMS chief Matt Venturino to his vehicle to retrieve an axe and a tool to open the door. By the time they returned, Grella had smashed a sliding glass door with his helmet.
"As he started to enter, I saw [Lew] laying there," said Cossaro, an anesthesiologist at Winthrop University Hospital. "I said, 'I'm a physician. If you can get him out I can start working on him.' The fireman said, 'It's too late.'"
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Cossaro went to Sally, still sitting in his family's car in shock, clutching the two glasses she had tried to save her her husband with.
"I said, 'Sally, I don't think he's gonna make it.'"
"I didn't think so," she said.
Cossaro commended the firefighters and EMS workers, who were now on the scene in greater numbers, including members of Roslyn Rescue Fire Company and Glenwood Fire Company.
"EMS treated [Sally] with care," Cossaro said. "Everybody was top notch as far as that goes. They were even respectful of the property," he said, neatly folding a tarp the Bodi's had outside from some recent construction.
Suozzi's wife, Jane Beckhard-Suozzi, grew up near the Bodi's and knew them since her childhood. She and her sister, Karen, met Sally as she arrived at the hospital and Karen stayed with her until her family arrived from out of town. Beckhard-Suozzi said she had called to check on the couple an hour before the fire.
"I was blessed to hear my Uncle Lew's voice one last time," she said.
The Cossaro's said they visited Sally at Glen Cove Hospital, where she was being treated for smoke inhalation. They said she was "in good spirits," and glad to have a slew of visitors including several daughters. She told them she wasn't sure whether she would eventually return to the home or move to an assisted living facility.
The Cossaro's said their two sons were shaken by the loss of a neighbor they knew since birth. Rekha said Lew would greet them mornings as he took out his garbage and they waited for the school bus, a task they did for him as they got older.
"Every morning you would hear that, 'Good morning, boys!'" she remembered.
She called Lewis "a gentleman," a kind neighbor who greeted them when they moved next door 16 years ago and let them know he was always there to help.
The Bodi's were respected and cared for -- the sort of caring that motivated the mailman to notify Cossaro when mail would pile up in their mailbox. The couple was hard of hearing, so Cossaro would go to the sliding door of that back family room where Lewis spent so much of his time.
Cossaro would knock, and a sleeping Lew would open his eyes and give a thumbs up.
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