Tony Hsieh, who developed Zappos into a multi-billion dollar online shoe store and built an influential theory of corporate happiness, deliberately locked himself up for a moment before it was burned by the fire would kill him.
Last November, Mr. Hsieh visited his girlfriend, Rachael Brown, in her new $ 1.3 million waterfront home in New London, Conn. After the couple argued over the mess of the house, Mr. Hsieh set up camp in a private swimming pool. The warehouse was filled with foam noodles and chairs on the beach.
Those details appeared in reports released Tuesday by New London’s police and fire protection, who were the first law enforcement on the incident. They said that Mr. Hsieh could be seen on a security video from November 18 looking out at the warehouse door around 3am, even though no one was there. Light smoke rose behind him.
When Mr. Hsieh closed the door, there was a sound of locking the door and the door being pulled out.
Businessman, 46 years old, is traveling with a nurse. According to police reports, he planned to leave Hawaii before dawn with Ms. Brown, her brother Andrew, and some friends and staff. While in the warehouse, he asked to be checked every 10 minutes. His nurse, who is staying in a hotel, says this is the standard procedure for Mr. Hsieh.
Investigators said they did not know exactly what caused the fire, partly because there was too much possibility. Hsieh has partially disassembled the portable propane heater. Discarded cigarettes have been found. Or maybe a fire came out of the candle. Investigators said his friends told them that Hsieh liked candles because they “reminded him of a simpler time” in his life.
The fourth possibility is that Mr. Hsieh did so on purpose.
“It was possible that Hsieh’s carelessness or even a deliberate act could have caused this fire,” the fire report said. The report added that Mr. Hsieh could also be intoxicated, when he noticed some Whip-It brand nitrogen oxide chargers, a cannabis tube and Fernet-Branca liqueur bottles.
The exact role of drugs or alcohol that night may not be clear. Dr. James Gill, Connecticut’s chief medical examiner, said in an email that “autopsy poison testing is not helpful” if the victim survives a long time. A final report is pending.
Firefighters broke the door and found Mr. Hsieh lying on a blanket. He was taken to a nearby hospital and then airlifted to the Connecticut Burn Center, where he died on November 27 from complications from asphyxiation.
Mr. Hsieh’s death shocked the tech and entrepreneurial world for his relative youth and his essay on corporate happiness. Zappos is a star of the early consumer Internet, helping to convince cautious people that buying online is less risky. Mr. Hsieh became chief executive in 2001, encouraging everyone who listens to the notion that companies should strive to make customers and their employees happy. He moved Zappos from the Bay Area to Las Vegas.
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Amazon bought Zappos for $ 1.2 billion in 2009. The following year, Mr. Hsieh published his book, “Bring Happiness,” a bestseller. “Our goal at Zappos is to have our employees think about their job as not a job or career, but a calling,” he wrote.
Hsieh remained at Zappos but turned his attention to a civil project aimed at revitalizing downtown Las Vegas. Many investments and years later, the best project is an incomplete success. During the past year or so, Mr. Hsieh gathered in Park City, Utah, where he spent tens of millions of dollars on real estate and became so manic that friends said they had discussed intervening. Few outsiders know that he has quietly left Zappos.
On the night of the fire, according to police interviews, Mr. Hsieh was disappointed by his dog’s death last week during a trip to Puerto Rico. Mr. and Mrs. Brown had an escalating disagreement, at which point Mr. Hsieh retreated to the barn. An assistant checked in with him regularly, recording visits with Post-it notes on the door. Mr. Hsieh will generally signal that he is fine.
As the group prepared to depart for the airport at midnight, Mr. Hsieh requested check-in every 5 minutes. But four minutes was all it took for the fire to become deadly. Attempts to break the locked door of the family are unsuccessful. Three Mercedes-Benz passenger vans arrived to take the group to the airport at the same time the firefighters arrived.
Ms. Brown, an original Zappos employee, did not respond to comments. A family spokesperson also did not respond to comment messages.
Firefighters are those who regularly visit the house in mid-November. On November 16, they were summoned at 1 a.m. by a smoke detector hooked up to a security company. According to department records, a man answered the door saying the bell had been set while cooking.
The firefighters left but returned a few minutes later, asking for a reminder by another smoke detector. Lieutenant Timothy O’Reilly wrote in the call summary: “Upon arrival, nothing was displayed and one male said there was no problem. Firefighters said they had joined in to look around.
Lieutenant O’Reilly and his colleagues found smoke in the finished basement, along with “molten plastic objects on the stove with hot cardboard to the touch”, which appear to be utensils. and plastic plates. They also found a burning candle in “an unsafe location” and extinguished it. While the smoke in the basement had dissipated, firefighters gave fire safety tips.
The investigators report also recounted an episode early on the evening of November 18. Mr. Hsieh’s assistant inspected him in the warehouse and noticed a candle had fallen and was burning a blanket. The assistant asked Mr. Hsieh to put out the fire, and the businessman did.