170th Street’s ‘Old Doc’ found dead after blaze

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Joe Royal was known as the elder statesman of his Springfield Gardens block. Many longtime residents of the block simply referred to him as "Old Doc."

But the 90-year-old man did not get the chance to live out his natural life on the street he grew old on. A fire blazed through his home at 120-12 170th St. last Thursday afternoon, police and fire officials said.

Police found Joseph Royal, the owner of the home, dead on arrival. Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office, said a cause of death has not yet been determined.

Responding to a 911 call, firefighters arrived at the scene at 12:35 p.m. and had the fire under control by 12:50 p.m., said Fire Department spokesman David Billig. Fourteen units and 62 firefighters battled the blaze, which occurred in the 20-by-40 two-story house.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation, but it appeared not to have been suspicious, said Officer Madelyne Galindo. She said the fire seemed to have started in the first-floor bathroom.

A day after the fire the burning stench of fire still enveloped the block. A charred lawn mower was one of the remnants of Royal's life that littered his front yard.

"He still cut his own lawn," said Royal's next door neighbor, who declined to give his name.

He said Royal was a retired electrician and "a very nice man." He said Royal has a daughter who lived in the house, but she had not yet gone to identify the body.

"He was a friendly guy," said a sanitation worker picking up some of the debris from in front of the home. "He was probably lonely, so he would always talk to us when he pulled up."

The worker said he had been assigned to the Springfield Gardens street for eight years, and had known "the old timer" all that time.

Juan Kelly, who lives across the street, said he works nights and slept through the fire, which happened in the middle of the day.

"This was a shock to me. I see the guy all the time," Kelly said. "It's sad to hear what happened."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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