What caused the deaths of Cooper University Health System's chief executive officer and his wife, found unresponsive in their Somerset County home over the weekend amid a smoky fire, remained a mystery Tuesday, with authorities declining to release any updates on their investigation.

Firefighters were called to John and Joyce Sheridan's home in Skillman, N.J., about 6:15 a.m. Sunday. Authorities said that day that the fire was contained mostly to their bedroom. They have released few other details, including whether the fire appeared suspicious or accidental. It also has not been confirmed whether the fire caused the deaths.

John P. Sheridan Jr., 72, had a career spanning 40 years in state government, law, and health care. Joyce Sheridan, 69, was a retired teacher for the South Brunswick School District.

All questions about the couple's deaths were directed to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

Capt. Jack Bennett, a spokesman for the office, has only fielded questions from The Inquirer through e-mails and has not returned calls.

On Monday, Bennett e-mailed, "We will not be releasing any additional information on this investigation until we receive the state medical examiner's preliminary findings sometime tomorrow."

On Tuesday, Bennett did not confirm whether the autopsies had been performed. When pressed for more details, he e-mailed, "We are waiting for test results and a final report from the Medical Examiner's Office. No time frame given as to when we will receive same."

It was not clear why authorities declined to discuss any preliminary findings, including exactly where the fire started.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, which oversees state medical examiners, again referred questions Tuesday to the Prosecutor's Office.

Efforts to reach the couple's son, Mark, a prominent figure in GOP politics, were unsuccessful.

John Sheridan was pronounced dead at the scene, his wife a short time later at Princeton Medical Center.

The sudden loss prompted a tremendous outpouring across the state, including comments from the governor and a moment of silence on the Assembly floor. Neighbors, coworkers, and friends recalled the kindness and generosity of the couple.

Before joining Cooper, John Sheridan was a senior partner and cochairman of the Morristown law firm of Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti L.L.P. He also served as general counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. He had been an attorney for the Carrier Clinic, and served on the board of trustees for a nonprofit psychiatric hospital in Belle Mead.

Sheridan also served as state transportation commissioner under Gov. Thomas H. Kean and chairman of the board of the New Jersey Transit Corp. from 1982 to 1985.

Friends said Sheridan had been considering retirement soon.


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