MASTIC, NY (PIX11)—64 year old Robert Drake Brownell had just left Virginia several months ago to re-connect with his son on Long Island--a son he'd left behind years ago, because of divorce. Last night, Brownell was killed with his long-time friend, Doug DeSouza, in DeSouza's family home in Mastic. DeSouza's wife, Barbara, was left fighting for her life at Stony Brook University Medical Center, after suffering serious smoke inhalation. All three victims were turning 65 this year--pals from their childhood years in Levittown.
"Barbara and Doug opened their house to him," Brownell's ex-wife, Gloria Radosta, tearfully told PIX 11 Friday, after leaving yellow flowers on the windshield of Brownell's car. "Who'd think he'd come back from Virginia to die?"
A backyard neighbor, John Bacany, had just let his dog out after 11pm Thursday night, when he noticed heavy smoke coming from the DeSouza house on Broadway--and called 911. When Bacany arrived at the front of the DeSouza home, a police officer was forcing open the gate and kicking in the front door. But the smoke was too intense to go inside.
It turns out the house had no smoke detectors. It's believed the fire started in the living room. All three residents were smokers, but the cause of the fire was not immediately released.
Bacany later saw Barbara DeSouza, in her sleeping clothes, being taken out on stretcher through a front window. "You had a bad feeling," Bacany said. "It just didn't look good."
Jimmy Lugo, who saw neighbors throw a ladder over the back fence, hoping to reach other victims, saw one of the men carried out from the rear of the house.
"They tried to revive him," Lugo said, "but to no avail. He was gone already."
Barbara and Doug DeSouza were teen sweethearts from Levittown who had lived in their Mastic frame house for 41 years, since 1971. The parents of three, adult children were awaiting the birth of their first grandchild in several days. Doug DeSouza was a one-time drill Sergeant in the U.S. Army.
"He was a great man," DeSouza's namesake son, Doug, Junior, said outside the burned-out home, before being overcome with emotion. He had just visited his mother, Barbara, at Stony Brook Medical Center.
"I can't imagine Barbara could survive, at this point, without Doug," Brownell's ex-wife said. "They loved each other since they were kids. They were so close."
Drake Brownell and Doug DeSouza formed a band as teens, and Brownell also served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era.
Brownell's ex-sister in law, Toni Crespo, said at 9pm Thursday night, Brownell was on the phone with her, talking about renting an apartment in North Shirley. "Two hours later, he's gone," Crespo observed.
Brownell's adult son, Christopher, turned up at the fire scene, recalling that he was only ten when his parents divorced and his father moved to Virginia, where he remarried. Christopher Brownell said he was glad his dad moved back to Long Island before Christmas, not long after Drake Brownell had attended Christopher's wedding.
"My father did what he had to do to go on with his life," Christopher Brownell said.
"I called his cell phone this morning to tell him I forgive him and I love him. And something happened. When I said 'I forgive him'--static came on the phone. Then when I said 'I loved him'--static came back on the phone. So I know he's okay."