Sources Say Cocaine, Alcohol Found in Boston Firefighters' Bodies

BOSTON, Mass.-- Autopsies performed on the two hero firefighters who perished battling a West Roxbury blaze on Aug. 29 showed that one of them was legally drunk at the fire while the other had traces of illegal drugs in his bloodstream, three city officials told the Herald.

Paul J. Cahill, 55, had a blood alcohol level of .27 - more than three times the legal alcohol limit for motorists - when he was killed fighting the fire at Tai Ho Restaurant on Centre Street in West Roxbury, said three sources with direct knowledge of the state Medical Examiner's toxicology report that is part of the autopsy.

Guidelines online say a moderate drinker with a blood-alcohol level of 0.21 to 0.29 may experience stupor, loss of understanding, impaired sensation, severe motor impairment, loss of consciousness and memory blackout.

Warren J. Payne, 53, had traces of cocaine and marijuana in his system at the time of his death, the sources said. He is a father of two and had been a firefighter for 19 years.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducts a full probe - including reviewing toxicology reports - before approving any federal death benefits for fallen firefighters, which could be as much as $150,000 per family.

Yesterday, Local 718 President Ed Kelly, who represents city firefighters, went to court seeking an injunction against WHDH (Ch. 7) to stop it from reporting the results of the autopsy, which were also obtained by the Herald.

Justice Marita A. Hopkins, who was Mayor Thomas M. Menino's former chief of staff before recently becoming a judge, ruled in favor of the union's request and ordered Channel 7 not to publicize the findings it received from confidential sources. The Herald also obtained the results from confidential sources.

Kelly had no comment after the hearing, but expressed concern the heroism of the two firefighters will be overshadowed by the information revealed in their autopsies.

"It's disgusting," Kelly said. "We don't even know if this information is true."

Cahill's wife, Anne, said she "knew nothing" about any reports. "I have no comment," she said.

Warren Payne's former wife, Cheryl Payne, also said she had not heard anything about the autopsy results.

"I am the mother of his two kids. I still have a boy who is going through a really hard time," she said. "Whatever rumors or gossip is out there, I don't care."

Last night Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said, "We have not been issued any report from the district attorney's office concerning this fire. We are not able to comment. Right now, we are still thinking of the families and their children."

Firefighters are tested for drugs entering the fire academy and two additional times, according to the BFD. But they are not given random drug tests unless there is a special complaint or concern about an individual.

Twelve firefighters have been fired or forced to resign since 2004 as a result of drug tests - and an aggressive employee assistance program has helped thousands of firefighters and their families achieve sobriety, officials said.

Neither man had been involved with the department's Employee Assistance Program and neither had faced any complaints of substance abuse, sources said.

Menino's press secretary, Dot Joyce, said, "This case is under investigation by the district attorney's office. (The mayor's) thoughts and prayers go out to the families as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved ones."

The Suffolk District Attorney's Office, the Boston Fire Department arson squad and the Boston Police homicide unit are handling the probe into the fallen firefighters' deaths.

Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk DA Dan Conley, said only that the death investigation is "ongoing."

Republished with permission of The Boston Herald.