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Dec 11, 2002
Body found in suspicious house fire

SARASOTA COUNTY, FL -- A suspicious fire destroyed a Siesta Key house, and investigators found a body so badly burnt that they cannot tell whether it is a male or female.

What happened at 577 Venice Lane is still a mystery to investigators. Early signs point to arson, and neighbors and friends suspect that the body might be that of David S. Engelhardt, a 45-year-old doctor who lost his medical license and struggled to pay bills on his recently foreclosed house.
At an auction last week, Charles Correia of North Port paid the Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court $151,000 in cash for the house, which has a market value of $247,800.

By the time the Sarasota County Fire Department arrived at Venice Lane at 1:50 a.m., much of the tile roof had caved in, said Battalion Chief Joe Robinson.

The fire was put out by 4 a.m., Robinson said. Firefighters told next-door neighbor Edward Meiers that pouring rain probably stopped the fire from spreading to his house.
Early Tuesday, the gray Engelhardt house was a charred and soggy mess, and Correia's surefire investment was up in the air. If no one files an objection to the sale by Dec. 17, the county clerk will issue Correia the property title, and disburse the money to creditors. Most of it will be used to pay off Engelhardt's $128,000 debt at Chase Mortgage Company - West.

Investigators from the fire department, Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and the state fire marshal's office were at the house Tuesday morning. They expect to identify the body today.
Xena, a police dog, patrolled the remains of the house. The accelerant-sniffing dog sat where it may have found signs of a flammable liquid.

Dan O'Rourke, a friend of Engelhardt's, was also at the scene. O'Rourke, who once rented a room in Engelhardt's house, described him as an honest, intelligent and articulate man who liked to fish.

Engelhardt was also a very private person, O'Rourke said. Even when they lived in the same house, O'Rourke would have to stop by his room to see or say hello to him, he said.
"He's not one to go knock on a neighbor's door and say, 'I baked some cookies,'" O'Rourke said. "He kept his thoughts to himself. Did you ever meet a guy who, no matter what his problem was, he'd have no reaction and no emotion?"

Like anyone, Engelhardt had his share of problems, O'Rourke said.

An emergency room doctor who graduated from State University of New York-Upstate Medical University, Engelhardt surrendered his medical license in 1999, according to Georgia state records.
He could not get a medical license in Florida, said his father, Ronald Engelhardt, who still lives in New York. He said his son had expressed interest in working as a paralegal.

The mortgage company had nearly foreclosed on the house twice, but Engelhardt's loans were reinstated when he paid outstanding bills.

Ronald Engelhardt talked to his son about three weeks ago, and visited him a year ago.

"Everything seemed not too bad," Ronald Engelhardt said. "We knew he was having problems. Something went wrong."