Arson and major crimes detectives were investigating a fire at the home of John P. Sheridan Jr., president and CEO of the Cooper University Health System, and his wife - whose bodies were found in their bedroom Sunday morning, authorities said.
Firefighters found Sheridan, 72, and his wife, Joyce, 69, when they were called to the couple's home in Skillman, Somerset County, in central New Jersey. Neighbors saw smoke coming from the house but no flames.
The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office said detectives from its arson task force and the major crimes unit assigned to the case had been joined by the crime scene investigation and forensic units.
The New Jersey regional medical examiner was scheduled to perform autopsies. No preliminary information had been released on the suspected cause of death.
The Prosecutor's Office said the fire had been confined to the Sheridans' bedroom. It asked anyone with information about the deaths to call the county tip line, 888-577-8477.
A Somerset County dispatcher said Sunday she could not release any information about the cause of the fire. Authorities would not say whether the cause was considered suspicious.
George E. Norcross III, chairman of the hospital's board of trustees, called Sheridan "a true gentleman and outstanding leader."
"It is hard to overstate how great a loss John's death is to his family, friends, coworkers, and Cooper," Norcross said in the statement.
Reached by phone Sunday afternoon, Norcross said he was "awaiting answers like everyone else" about what happened.
Norcross' brother, New Jersey State Sen. Donald Norcross, said John Sheridan "represented the very best of South Jersey . . .. We all have been dealt a serious blow."
Adrienne Kirby, president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care, said in a statement Sheridan's "leadership made Cooper a better place."
"Working closely with John, I was able to see firsthand his quiet strength, his deciseveness, and his passionate belief that Cooper not only could make a difference in people's lives, it had an obligation to do so," Kirby said.
A neighbor, Adam Johnson, 17, who lives down the street from the Sheridans, said the fire at the yellow, two-story house started early in the morning, about 6 a.m. "A lot of police and fire people came," he said.
The house is on tree-lined Meadow Run Drive in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Built in 1977, it is assessed at $511,500.
Photos posted on NJ.com showed that the house, surrounded by yellow police tape, had been decorated with ghosts for Halloween.
Cooper hired Sheridan as senior executive vice president in 2005; he was appointed president and CEO in 2008. He oversaw construction of a $220 million pavilion, and supported partnerships with Camden community organizations.
In a statement on the deaths, the Cooper University Health System said Sheridan was on the boards of trustees of the New Jersey Council of Teaching Hospitals and the New Jersey Hospital Association and served on the Hospital Alliance of New Jersey board and executive committee and on Gov. Christie's health-care transition subcommittee in 2010.
The statement said he was New Jersey commissioner of transportation under Gov. Thomas H. Kean and served as New Jersey deputy attorney general and assistant counsel for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and was counsel for the New Jersey Senate majority.
According to a biography on Cooper's website, John Sheridan served in the Army from 1968 to 1978, and graduated from St. Peter's College and Rutgers Law School.
Sheridan and his wife, a retired teacher, have four sons, all in their 30s, and several grandchildren.
Donald Parker, president of Carrier Clinic, a private mental health hospital in Belle Mead, N.J., where Sheridan was on the board of trustees for 25 years, said, "We're really devastated."
Before retiring from that position six or seven years ago, Sheridan helped secure financing for a $20 million, 60-bed addition now under construction.
"He's one of the stalwarts of the Carrier Clinic," Parker said. "He saw us through some very challenging times."
After Sheridan resigned, his son Mark - a prominent lawyer who has represented Christie in the Bridgegate scandal - took his place. Mark Sheridan left the board last year.
Parker said he learned of the fire in a text message from another board member Sunday morning, and "it sounded so odd to me."
"They live in a very beautiful area. The possibility of having a fire in our area is fairly low. It's unusual. It's not a dry area," he said.
He said Sheridan was planning to retire soon from Cooper.
The family also has a home near Cooperstown, N.Y., where they spent time in summers.