Digital Exclusive: Formal review planned for Laurie Merritt’s death investigation

Digital Exclusive

WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The seventh anniversary of Laurie Merritt’s death is coming up, and her family still has no answers.

On April 14, 2014, Merritt’s house went up in flames. She was unconscious when firefighters rescued her and was taken to an area hospital where she died overnight. The cause of her death was carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation, but the manner is still undetermined.

“Initially it was reported by the coroner as being, the death, being accidental. It was later reported by the fire marshal as an intentionally set fire, which naturally, is conflicting. So we tried to put back together the facts of that evening,” Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said.

Seven years later, officials are still putting those facts together. Yet, there is hope. Sanguedolce says officials will come together for a formal review of the investigation of Merritt’s death.

“We have had a few meetings already, putting together the various reports. Crime scene photos, autopsy information and we’re gonna present that case, I believe, in May,” Sanguedolce said.

Joe Walkowiak, Merritt’s brother, is skeptical about the new review.

“I pray that there’s something there that they missed,” Walkowiak said.

He says something like this happens every year, and no new information comes out of it. He calls the investigation inadequate.

“It makes me frustrated. It makes my family frustrated to listen to the lies that are being told every year at this time. It’s the same thing every year,” Walkowiak said.

Merritt’s brother believes there was foul play at hand the night of the fire.

“I know that something happened to my sister. I know because my sister was in fear of her life,” Walkowiak said.

Walkowiak says he misses his sister terribly. Her birthday was in early February and he says Merritt’s family throws her a party every year. But it’s a difficult time.

“It really hurts every time this year. It makes Easter, is really hard. Her birthday is really hard. And then we have the 15th, the 14th of April,” Walkowiak said.

Sanguedolce deeply sympathizes with Merritt’s grieving family.

“I would like to say I understand the family’s frustration. But I don’t think anyone can. I think there are very few people on Earth, maybe thankfully, that have to suffer the loss of a close family member, and don’t have the opportunity to begin healing for this period of time,” Sanguedolce said.

The Luzerne County District Attorney says that is why the formal review is happening, to hopefully get some answers. He asks anyone with information about the fire to come forward, whether the person believes it is relevant or not.

Sanguedolce says everything is important.

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