Tony Hsieh’s Fatal Night: An Argument, Drugs, a Locked Door and Sudden Fire

Tony Hsieh, who developed Zappos into a billion-dollar web shoe retailer and formulated an influential idea about company happiness, intentionally locked himself in a shed moments earlier than it was consumed by the hearth that might kill him.

Last November, Mr. Hsieh was visiting his girlfriend, Rachael Brown, in her new $1.three million riverfront home in New London, Conn. After the couple had an argument in regards to the messiness of the home, Mr. Hsieh arrange camp within the hooked up pool storage shed, which was full of froth pool noodles and seaside chairs.

Those particulars appeared in stories launched Tuesday by New London fireplace and police investigators, the primary legislation enforcement accounts of the incident. They mentioned Mr. Hsieh may very well be seen on a safety video from Nov. 18 searching the shed door about three a.m., though nobody was about. Light smoke rose behind him.

When Mr. Hsieh closed the door, there was the sound of the door lock latching and a deadbolt being drawn.

The entrepreneur, 46, was touring with a nurse. He deliberate to go away earlier than daybreak for Hawaii with Ms. Brown, his brother Andrew, and a number of associates and workers, in line with the police report. While within the shed, he requested to be checked on each 10 minutes. His nurse, who was staying in a resort, mentioned this was commonplace process with Mr. Hsieh.

Investigators mentioned they didn’t know precisely what had began the hearth, partly as a result of there have been too many prospects. Mr. Hsieh had partly disassembled a transportable propane heater. Discarded cigarettes had been discovered. Or possibly the blaze erupted from candles. Investigators mentioned his associates had informed them that Mr. Hsieh preferred candles as a result of they “reminded him of a simpler time” in his life.

A fourth chance is that Mr. Hsieh did it on objective.

“It is possible that carelessness or even an intentional act by Hsieh could have started this fire,” the hearth report mentioned. The report added that Mr. Hsieh might also have been intoxicated, noting the presence of a number of Whip-It model nitrous oxide chargers, a marijuana pipe and Fernet-Branca liqueur bottles.

The actual function of medicine or alcohol that evening is prone to stay unclear. Dr. James Gill, Connecticut’s chief medical expert, mentioned in an electronic mail that “autopsy toxicology testing is not useful” if the sufferer survives for an prolonged interval. A remaining report is pending.

Firefighters who broke down the door discovered Mr. Hsieh mendacity on a blanket. He was taken to a close by hospital and then airlifted to the Connecticut Burn Center, the place he died on Nov. 27 of problems from smoke inhalation.

Mr. Hsieh’s loss of life shocked the tech and entrepreneurial worlds due to his relative youth and his writing on company happiness. Zappos was a star of the early client web, serving to persuade the cautious that purchasing on-line held few perils. Mr. Hsieh turned chief government in 2001, selling to all who would pay attention the notion that corporations ought to attempt to make their prospects in addition to their workers comfortable. He relocated Zappos from the Bay Area to Las Vegas.

Amazon bought Zappos for $1.2 billion in 2009. The next year, Mr. Hsieh published “Delivering Happiness,” a best seller. “Our goal at Zappos is for our employees to think of their work not as a job or career, but as a calling,” he wrote.

Mr. Hsieh remained at Zappos but turned his attention to a civic project to revitalize downtown Las Vegas. Many investments and many years later, the project was at best an incomplete success. In the last year or so, Mr. Hsieh concentrated on Park City, Utah, where he spent tens of millions of dollars buying properties and became so manic that friends said they had discussed an intervention. Few outsiders knew that he had quietly left Zappos.

On the night of the fire, according to police interviews, Mr. Hsieh was despondent over the death of his dog the previous week during a trip to Puerto Rico. He and Ms. Brown had a disagreement that escalated, at which point Mr. Hsieh retired to the shed. An assistant checked with him frequently, logging the visits with Post-it notes on the door. Mr. Hsieh would generally signal that he was OK.

As the group prepared to depart in the middle of the night for the airport, Mr. Hsieh asked for the check-ins to be every five minutes. But four minutes were all it took for the fire to become deadly. Attempts by those in the house to break down the locked door were unsuccessful. Three Mercedes-Benz passenger vans arrived to take the party to the airport about the same time that firefighters arrived.

Ms. Brown, an early Zappos employee, did not return calls for comment. A family spokesman also did not respond to a message for comment.

Firefighters were regular visitors to the house in mid-November. On Nov. 16, they were summoned at 1 a.m. by a smoke detector that was wired into a security company. A man who answered the door said the alarm had been set off by cooking, according to department records.

The firefighters left but returned minutes later, prompted by another smoke detector. “On arrival found nothing showing and a male stating again that there was no problem,” Lt. Timothy O’Reilly wrote in a summary of the call. Firefighters said they had entered to take a look around.

Lieutenant O’Reilly and his colleagues found smoke in the finished basement, along with “melted plastic items on the stovetop along with cardboard that was hot to the touch,” which were apparently plastic utensils and plates. They also found a candle burning in “an unsafe location” and extinguished it. While the smoke in the basement dissipated, the firefighters offered fire safety tips.

The investigators’ report also recounted an episode early in the evening of Nov. 18. Mr. Hsieh’s assistant checked on him in the shed and noticed a candle had fallen over and was burning a blanket. The assistant asked Mr. Hsieh to put out the flame, and the entrepreneur did.

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