Officials ID man found dead in Brattleboro fire as brewery owner

Dec. 6—BRATTLEBORO — Officials on Monday identified the man found dead at the scene of Friday night's fire as the owner of the closed brewery that was destroyed in the blaze. Authorities had previously determined the structure was unsound, according to a news release from the Brattleboro Fire Department.

Clyde Reagin McNeill, 62, died in the three-alarm fire at 90 Elliot St. that broke out around 7:45 p.m. Friday, the release says. Widely known as "Ray," McNeill owned the building that housed McNeill's Brewery, which had been closed since early 2020, Brattleboro Fire Chief Leonard Howard said Monday evening.

McNeill's body has been sent to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington, Vt. His cause of death has not been determined yet, pending the results of an autopsy, according to the release.

In addition to the news release, the Brattleboro Fire Department on Monday also posted a June 11, 2021, letter to McNeill from Stevens & Associates. The Brattleboro engineering firm had conducted a structural review of the brewery and found "the lower two floors are structurally failing" and recommended "not occupying the building until it is stabilized."

The fire department also shared a letter dated June 29, 2021, in which McNeill agreed that the building would not be open to the public nor operate as a business until it was stabilized.

"We couldn't tell him not to live there because technically it was his home, but we could tell him he couldn't run his business there because the public could go in," Howard said in a phone interview Monday evening, noting that McNeill lived in the building's lone apartment on the second floor.

"... He opted to live there, and we made it clear to him that in the event of an emergency or fire, we are not entering the building because of the structural integrity," Howard said.

In a news release late Friday night, the Brattleboro Fire Department said that "due to the structural integrity of the building, crews performed exterior operations only."

Investigators from the Brattleboro police and fire departments, as well as the Vermont Department of Public Safety Fire and Explosion Unit determined the fire started in the southeast corner of the second floor, according to a news release the fire department sent Saturday. Investigators did not determine the fire's cause, but said it "does not appear to be the result of a criminal act."

Based on the existing structural issues, and the further damage from the fire, Howard ordered the building to be torn down Saturday. The building had two stories above ground and three sublevels, the chief said Monday.

The structure was built in in 1816 and was the Brattleboro fire house until 1933, according to the fire department's Saturday news release. It became a pub in 1990.

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.