Prude Death Investigation

40 years later, prosecutors say they can’t bring charges in deadly Holiday Inn fire

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News 8 is taking a look at the deadly Holiday Inn fire that killed ten people in 1978.

At 2:30 in the morning on November 26th 1978, fire broke out at the Holiday Inn on Ridge Road in Greece.  Hundreds of people were inside.  By the time the fast-moving flames were put out, 10 people were dead and the building was destroyed. 

Today the scene of the fire is replaced by a restaurant. The search for answers has never really ended, but News 8 has learned this case will likely never be prosecuted.

In 2011, Greece Police reopened their investigation into the fire, which included allegations of arson, and one suspect.  In 2015 the case was forwarded to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, only to be put to rest a year later.  D.A. Sandra Doorley tells News 8  they didn’t have enough evidence to present to a grand jury.

“We weren’t able to narrow down and determine one potential suspect so we didn’t have a firm id of who we would even pursue in a grand jury proceeding,” she says.  “And then on the other hand, we weren ‘t comfortable with the idea that we even had an arson at all.”

“We’re disappointed by that decision and a little bit frustrated,” says Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan.  “But the case remains very much open.”

Firefighters say the inferno started beneath a stairwell used for storage.  Not long after the fire, an expert from New York City was brought in to help with the investigation.  He determined the fire was intentionally set.  But that expert has since passed away and prosecutors say much of the forensic science is outdated.

The Greece Police Chief wouldn’t comment on the evidence they gave to prosecutors, but he’s not wavering.  According to him this fire was an arson, and the 10 deaths were all murders.

“It’s an open case, it’s assigned to investigators, it’s being worked,” he says.

“Never say never,” says Doorley. But for now, she says there’s nothing the DA’s office will do going forward.

Was it arson – or a tragic accident?  40 years later, the Holiday Inn Fire in Greece remains a mystery—one of the worst hotel fires in U.S. history.

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Greece Police Chief Phelan would not tell us who their suspect is.  But when the case was re-opened, Bud Phillips was reported to be a target of the investigation.  Phillips retired from his job as Greece Ridge Fire Chief earlier this year.  In 1978 he was a fire lieutenant, and on the night of the fire, he was off-duty and driving by when he noticed flames coming from the back of the hotel.  He has always denied involvement in the fire.

Here is News 8 archive footage of the Holiday Inn Fire and its aftermath:

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