This case was reported extensively from some of the best news organizations in Connecticut and New York. I will attempt to offer some of the highlights, and lowlights, with selected excerpts and details of this tragic human tale along with my contributions. You are invited to read the full accounts in the reference section.
Lomar Johnson lived in Southbury, CT with his wife Pauline. In 2011, he worked playing Santa at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Flagship store in New York City on Christmas Eve. They planned to travel to Stamford, CT to visit his daughter and their three granddaughters at their home which was under renovation. This ramshackle home was a 116 year old Victorian style house purchased by daughter, Madonna Badger in December 2010 for $1.725 million.
Lomar, age 71 considered playing Santa a dream job. He was known for his long white beard. “That’s all he ever wanted to be,” a family member said. “He stopped shaving the day he retired.”
This was the final time Lomar would play Santa. He, along with his wife and granddaughters were killed in a massive fire on Christmas day. They said it was accidental, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of blame and guilt to go around.
A Contractor on Thin Ice in More Ways than One
Madonna Badger initially met contractor Michael Borcina at an AA meeting and asked for his opinion when she contemplated purchasing the old Victorian. It became much more than an opinion. Madonna Badger was an advertising executive in New York and hired Borcina for the renovation project.
Michael Borcina asked longtime friend and carpenter, Mike Foley of New York to apply for a Connecticut home improvement license for the project as Borcina had liens and judgments against him. Foley got the license on Dec. 7, 2010 and helped Borcina with the project. However, Foley grew weary of the commute and did approximately 30 hours of work. “The project was supposed to be small,” Foley told police.
Without Foley’s knowledge, Borcina renewed the license in Foley’s name in December and listed his own address as Foley’s, according to investigators.
Statements to Stamford police from two carpenters who worked for Borcina at the 116-year old Victorian house from August to November 2011 said that Borcina was lax about safety, and when they expressed their concerns Borcina threatened to fire them.
Additionally, Don Raskopf, a carpentry foreman, and Andrew Grunow, a master carpenter, told investigators they believed that Borcina allowed the family to move in too soon and that they were living there under hazardous conditions. New oil-finished flooring and pine paneling in the kitchen and in the new mud room contributed to what the men called a fire fuel load.
Mike Borcina reportedly ignored very important warnings about installing pine paneling on the kitchen staircase that led to the second floor landing.
A Mother with Second Thoughts
Embers were carried from the home’s fireplace to a mudroom or an adjacent trash enclosure at the rear of the house after 3 a.m.
Madonna Badger told police that she had second thoughts about the fact that Borcina left fireplace ashes in the mudroom. She stated that she questioned if this was a good place to leave the ashes for safety reasons and considered placing the box in the backyard. She recalled saying to herself that she saw Mike use his hands to smooth out the ashes in the bag and again considered that sufficient to satisfy her concerns that there were no live embers.
The fire started after that and spread quickly through the main building. Firefighters were called at 4:52 a.m. and arrived within minutes.
The Accidental Perpetrator
Unbeknownst to Borcina, construction workers talked about their boss. They were convinced that he was chasing Madonna Badger. Despite maintaining a $3,900 apartment in Battery Park City he chose often to stay in her garage, and lied about his whereabouts to Madonna. A list of some of his idiosyncrasies include his fickleness, constantly being cold, poor memory, deafness in one ear, ferocious speaking voice, and lingering side effects from surgery several years ago to remove a brain tumor.
Madonna had also hired Borcina to handle renovations of her Manhattan office, and there were complications from that job, too. Workers heard heated financial conversations between Borcina and Madonna, leaving her in tears.
The Grieving Father Matt Badger
He lives to talk about the foundation, the LilySarahGrace Fund, that he started in the days that followed the fire, days when he stalked his apartment like a lunatic, threatening to end his life, and others’ including the town officials, Borcina, Madonna. Abby, his girlfriend. His friends did not leave him alone, fearing for his safety.
Decision NOT to Prosecute
Connecticut State’s Attorney David I. Cohen spent six months investigating the case and said, “When such a horrific event occurs, it is only natural that those related to the victims and the public wants to hold someone responsible for what is otherwise an inexplicable accident.”
Cohen did not question the official narrative, that the fire began in the mudroom, but he noted that we will never know whether the battery-powered detectors temporarily installed over the summer were still active, as Borcina claims.
The day after the fire, Stamford officials decided to tear down the burned-out structure, citing a safety risk to anyone who might enter it. “Where so much is unknown or in dispute,” Cohen wrote, “where the facts are inconclusive and where the safety of the public will not be enhanced, I have decided to exercise the discretion given to me by our State Constitution and by my oath of office and decline, at this time, to prosecute.”
Madonna Badger and Michael Borcina- Interview on “The Today Show”
MATT LAUER: “I know friends of yours, or some people in your life, have asked you how you could still have a relationship with him, how you could be near him, quite frankly.”
BADGER: Mm-hmm. Right.
LAUER: How do you answer that question?
BADGER: The answer for me is that we were in the fire together. We were in the fire. And we spent the last night on earth with my three children and my mom and dad, and it was beautiful.
Madonna blames the city of Stamford. She has filed a lawsuit against its officials, alleging their actions in tearing down her house without notifying her destroyed any possibility of a second opinion. She spent a week in an acute-care unit after coming close to attempting suicide.
Matthew, Madonna and Michael
Matthew has sympathy for his ex-wife. He has sympathy even for Borcina. He encountered him in lower Manhattan and noticed Borcina appeared to be struggling. He asked Matt if he could hug him. Yes, Matt has sympathy. No, Borcina could not hug him.
Matt has filed suit against Borcina for a pattern of incompetence and negligent building practices. Were it not for Borcina, the suit contends, his children would still be alive. He’s named the City of Stamford as co-defendant, for the premature teardown and inadequate building inspection. He has not sued Madonna. He believes she is suffering enough.
Matt Badger tells the reporter for New York Magazine, “He knows his children “melted—They fucking melted.” He wants to know why.
January 13, 2015
Michael Borcina, contractor, has agreed to settle part of a wrongful death lawsuit by paying the children’s father $5 million.
All of this tragedy and Santa still comes to Saks Fifth Avenue.
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