Lombard fire survivor testifies in murder, arson trial
Jason Cassidy says he remembers very little from the night that changed his life, but the scars he bears serve as a constant reminder.
Cassidy, 27, of Villa Park, suffered from smoke inhalation and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body after firefighters rescued him in the early morning hours of July 22, 2012, from a second-story bedroom of a burning, smoke-filled house at 1028 S. Ahrens Ave. in Lombard.
Cassidy testified Thursday during the first-degree murder trial of Todd Mandoline, who is accused of starting the fire that injured Cassidy and killed 24-year-old Paula Morgan.
Mandoline, 25, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson, arson and criminal damage to property in the fire he is accused of starting at Morgan's family home.
Prosecutors say Mandoline, who was seen arguing with his ex-girlfriend Morgan earlier in the evening at her birthday party, admitted to police that he stuffed an ignited piece of a paper into the gas tank of Morgan's mother's 2003 Acura just before 4 a.m.
The fire quickly spread to the attached garage and home, killing Morgan and severely injuring Cassidy.
Cassidy said he and two of his roommates arrived at Morgan's birthday party between 8 and 9 p.m. and "drank some beers and joked around" as they hung out by a rear fire pit. They eventually went inside to play a game, and that's where Cassidy's memory fails.
"We were playing a drinking game inside and, the next thing I know, I woke up in the hospital," Cassidy told jurors. "I was disoriented and did not know where I was, but the first person I saw was my dad."
Arthur Sanford, associate professor of surgery at Loyola University Hospital's burn service unit, told jurors Cassidy was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks as he underwent a number of procedures to repair and replace his charred skin.
"I looked down and, like my dad told me, I looked like the Michelin Man the way I was wrapped," Cassidy said.
Cassidy, who continues to recover and now drives a forklift, said he spent about a month and half at the hospital as he relearned how to do simple things, like walk.
"I felt useless because I couldn't walk or talk or do anything for myself," he said. "It's a completely useless feeling lying there and not being able to do anything about it."
Today, Cassidy's shoulders, chest, stomach and arms remain scarred, and the dry winter causes lots of itching.
The trial wrapped up Thursday with prosecutors playing 90 minutes of video from Mandoline's interrogation the morning after the fire.
The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Friday and is expected to conclude Tuesday.