Victim in house fire identified

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The man who died in his Crystal Falls house when it caught on fire early last week has been positively identified as Michael Ryan Conley Sr., 40.

Conley was identified through radiology records by a Sonora doctor who recently performed back surgery on Conley, said Lt. John Steely of the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department.

Conley, who had lived at the house with two of his sons, was the only resident not accounted for after the fire, and had been presumed to be the victim. But no dental records for the victim could be located so identification had to be made another way, Steely said.

Cause of the fire, which destroyed the 1,000-square-foot house at the corner of Crystal Falls Drive and Tehachapi Court, has yet to be confirmed.

The fire cause won't be released until toxicology reports, which could indicate a cause of death, come back on Conley, said Battalion Chief Richard Imlach of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"All I can say at this point," said Imlach, "is that the fire started on an exterior wall on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen, where the victim was found."

The fire investigation has been treated as a crime because of the fatality.

"It could be anything from an accident to a homicide," said Steely, "but we have to handle it as if it is the worst-case scenario until the investigation is finished."

The fire started about 8 p.m. Monday, July 29, and quickly put out. But all mop-up activity was stopped when sheriff's Deputy Kelvin Moses discovered a body in the kitchen area of the home. The house was then declared a crime scene while investigators worked to determine the cause of the fire and how Conley died.

State Department of Justice investigators assisted in the investigation.

Memorial services for Conley are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in East Sonora. Terzich and Wilson Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

The Union Democrat
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