CAROLINA BEACH – Two women and four pets were killed when an arsonist set fire to a Carolina Beach condo in December 2014. On Thursday, a survivor who awoke to a burning home and her best friend’s screams in the early morning hours of Dec. 6, told Marshall Doran just how much his crime changed her life.
Doran, 23, was ordered to serve to two life sentences after he entered an Alford plea in New Hanover County Superior Court to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree arson. All other charges in the case were dismissed as part of his plea agreement, according to District Attorney Ben David.
The three fires caused great devastation and shocked the conscience of Pleasure Island and the surrounding communities, David said.
“Two precious lives were lost, as well as the lives of four pets. Many other people were in harm’s way and escaped thanks to the kindness of strangers and the bravery of countless first responders,” David said. “This sentence will ensure that Doran will die in prison. He will never walk among us again.”
Barbara O’Steen, who lived in a condo at 409 Carolina Beach Ave. S., gave an emotional recount of the blaze that took her home, almost took her life, and took the lives of her neighbors, 72-year-old Mary Angeline Cochran and 43-year-old Darline Ann Maslar.
Facing the court, O’Steen said that, in the hours before the fatal fires broke out, she was having the perfect weekend. She had attended the town’s annual Christmas parade and was spending time at her condo with her best friend. But at about 2:30 a.m., O’Steen woke up to her best friend screaming from her living room that there was a fire and they needed to get out of the building.
“As I jumped out of bed, my heart beating out of my chest and running to the front door to see what was going on I remember thinking it can’t be that bad,” O’Steen said. “When I opened the door, flames were at the bottom of the steps. As we are both trying to grab our things all I could say was, ‘Oh my God.’”
As she ran from the building, O’Steen said she could hear police yelling, residents screaming and could feel the heat from the fire that was visible, coming out of the underside of the building and heading straight for the stairwell.
When O’Steen finally got out of the burning building, she stood with neighbors in her pajamas and watched as the fire consumed the condo, “having no idea that there were still people in the building,” she said.
“Terror is not a strong enough word to describe what I was feeling,” O’Steen told Doran. “People so precious, the people and pets you murdered.”
O’Steen lost her mother three years ago, but was able to fulfill her lifelong dream of having a beach home from her mother’s generosity. She worked tirelessly to renovate the condo and loved living at the beach, she said. Now, she will not return that spot after the fire.
O’Steen described the whole incident as a “nightmare” that still affects her daily life today.
“It was the longest 15 minutes of my life … I wasn’t brave. I was scared to death,” O’Steen said.
The families of Cochran and Maslar, did not speak to the court on Thursday, but released statements through the district attorney’s office.
Statement from the family of Mary Cochran:
“While it does not bring our Mother or the other lives back that were taken, justice has been served today. The family of Mary Cochran would like to thank the Carolina Beach Police Department, Carolina Beach Fire Department, Carolina Beach Fire Relief Fund and the New Hanover County District Attorney’s Office for all of their hard work and support throughout this very difficult time. We also deeply appreciate all the support of the Carolina Beach community and our friends in Carolina Beach and Raleigh.”
Statement from the family of Darlene Maslar:
“We are devastated by Darlene’s death. She was a caring person who loved life and all of those around her. We are grateful that Darlene received justice today.”
David said the families wished to express their thanks to the men and women who had a hand in the case, including members of the Carolina Beach Police Department, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, the Wilmington and New Hanover County Fire Departments, the State Ports, the State Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“Our hearts go out to the victims, Mary and Darlene,” Carolina Beach Police Chief Chris Spivey said. “Their families had some resolution, but yet there still left to pick up the pieces and move on.”
Both David and Spivey were with first responders as they worked to battle not only the fire at the Carolina Beach Avenue condo, but two others; one damaged a condo at 811 Carolina Beach Avenue South, another damaged a van on South Lake Boulevard.
“It was a unified effort, a partnership to do the right thing,” Spivey said. “The Carolina Beach community reached out to the families and victims in ways you just cannot imagine.”
David said there was an “outpouring” of support from the community in the days following the fires. Not only did the community help during the fire and provide witness statements that aided in the capture and arrest of Doran, they also helped provide moral and financial support for the victims.
One month after fires in Carolina Beach, a group dedicated to raising money to help those affected, injured or displaced from the fires surpassed its fundraising goal of $100,000. The funds raised helped 18 people were who were affected by the fires and paid for the funeral expenses both Cochran and Maslar.
“Sometimes tragedies like this rip some places apart and other times it brings them together. And I saw Pleasure Island come together at that time,” David said. “And while the punishment is something that is going to cost a young man the rest of his life in prison. It’s the only appropriate thing given the facts and circumstances of this case.”