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November 21, 2013

Richfield Springs teacher dies in fire

Monday was a tough day at Richfield Springs Central School as students and staff faced the loss of a beloved teacher, the school superintendent said.

Mary E. Weingates, 59, died in a fire at her Richfield Springs home Saturday. She taught science to middle-grade students at the school, where she had worked since 1998.

The fire is considered accidental, an Otsego County fire investigation official said Monday, but the cause and manner of death remain under investigation.

Dan Myers, Richfield Springs Central School superintendent, said talking and remembrances about Mary Weingates will continue in the days ahead as students and staff work through the “horrible event” of her death and the loss to the school and local community.

Several teachers will speak during a gathering to celebrate Weingates’ life to be held in the Richfield Springs High School gymnasium at 1 p.m. Saturday, Myers said.

On Monday, counselors were at the school, along with five or six substitute teachers who relieved staff as needed, Myers said. During the weekend, the school staff met in crisis team sessions and contacted members of the school community personally before any emails about Weingates were sent, he said.

Weingates’ house was behind the school, Myers said, and on Saturday, students and staff who were watching crews fight the fire and the cleanup at the scene had to be ushered away so that the body could be removed.

On Monday, shades in school windows facing her charred house were closed, he said.

Weingates had been living alone in the house and was the sole occupant at the time of the fire, state police and fire officials said, and her pets were outside.

State Office of Fire Prevention and Control investigators are looking at a back porch as a possible site of fire origin, Kevin Ritton, coordinator of the Otsego County Office of Emergency Services, said Monday. The porch was used to store some appliances such as a refrigerator, washer and dryer, he said.

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