By Karen Zautyk
When police and firefighters fished a corpse from the murky waters of the Passaic River off South Kearny last week, they put an end to a two-month hunt for a man sought in a vicious assault on his ex-wife.
The body, recovered in the early hours of Wednesday, May 29, was identified Saturday as that of Byron Stokely, 47, who had been accused of pouring a mixture of boiling water and hot oil on his former wife, Terri Thompson, as she slept in her Irvington home on March 28.
Stokely allegedly fled the scene in Thompson’s car, which was later recovered, but he had disappeared. Essex County law enforcement had been searching for him ever since.
The 32-year-old victim suffered severe burns and was treated in the critical care unit at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. She is now recovering at home, it was reported.
The unraveling of the mystery of Stokely’s whereabouts began at 11 p.m. May 28, when Kearny Police Officers Frank West and Tom Pontrella, on patrol in South Kearny, were dispatched to the CSX railyard off Fish House Road.
There, they were met by a security officer from the Norfolk Southern RR, who told them that an alert engineer, driving a train through the area, had reported seeing a body in the Passaic, KPD Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer.
Ward and Pontrella contacted the Newark Fire Department to request that its fireboat, which was in the general area, assist in a search.
The body was eventually located about 30 yards off the Kearny shore, it was reported.
The Kearny police were assisted by Kearny firefighters in removing the corpse from the river.
KPD Det. Sgt. John View had also responded to the scene along with investigators from the offices of the Hudson County Prosecutor and the state Medical Examiner, who took over the case.
Authorities said it could not be immediately determined how long the body had been in the water.
On Saturday night, Gene Rubino, spokesman for the HCPO, confirmed that the body had been identified as Stokely.
“The preliminary ME finding indicates no signs of trauma, but final results are pending further medical studies,” Rubino told The Observer.
At press time, no new information was available.