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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Black Sunday Indictments

I have to say, this story really bothers me:
The former owner of a Bronx building and two of his tenants have been indicted in the deaths of two firefighters whose efforts to battle a blaze in the building last year were hampered by a warren of illegally constructed rooms and walls, the authorities said.

On Jan. 23, 2005, Lt. Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew leaped to their deaths from a fourth-floor window of the building at 236 East 178th Street when they could not find the fire escape. Four other firefighters were critically injured that morning when they, too, had to jump from the apartment in an attempt to flee the searing heat and smoke. Investigators determined that the fire was sparked by an overloaded extension cord that powered the illegally built rooms.

...But yesterday, in unsealing an indictment against one of the tenants, the Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, focused on plasterboard partition walls in two apartments that investigators say blocked firefighters' access to the fire escape and forced the six men to jump. Investigators also determined that the jerry-built rooms helped accelerate the spread of the fire throughout the five-story building.
Try as I might, I just can't see this as anything but scapegoating. I can understand finding the tenants and the landlord guilty for whatever the charges in creating a fire hazard, or the illegal subdivisions. But to indict them as being directly responsible in the deaths of the firefighters? Especially coupled with the fact that accusations have been swirling that Fire Department underpreparedness contributed to the deaths as well:
The deaths prompted an internal investigation by the Fire Department and led to a new policy that gives firefighters safety ropes they can use to rappel from buildings. In a report issued in September, investigators said that frozen hydrants, nonfunctioning hoses and poor communication among those battling the fire might have contributed to the deaths and injuries.
Is it just me? Or does this indictment seem tacked-on?

Tragedy happens, and I can't begin to imagine the sorrow of the firefighters' families. But not every tragic event has to have a scapegoat.


Blogger rebba shlita said...

there are building safty rules made for reasons. by obstructing the proper means og egress the ones that constructed these walls and rooms did lead to the firemans death. fire escapes by law are at least by one window in each room except bathroom and kitchen. therefore the one that constructed these rooms should be held accountable.
the fire department regulations and rules at that time did not require everyone to have the rope unfortunatly it is only after tragedy that changes are made. the judge is right on this one. whatever the malfunctions may have been the illegal wall are in direct violation of the law for this exact reason. it cut off the direct line to the fire escapes.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

I'm not an attorney, but I think that the law is that if you commit an illegal act and it results in death, you can be charged with manslaughter. This seems to be the case here. Any attorneys here?

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But to indict them as being directly responsible in the deaths of the firefighters?

IANAL, but where is the intent? How can someone be held directly responsible without intent?

12:11 PM  
Blogger Charlie Hall said...

If I drive drunk, and kill someone, I will be charged with vehicular homicide and probably spend time in prison as a result. Despite the lack on intent. This is actually more serious because if I drive drunk I'm not really thinking and am not trying to take advantage of anyone, while putting up illegal partitions in apartments is putting lives at risk in exchange for monetary gain. It is immoral. And unfortunately, two firefighters paid with their lives.

1:20 PM  
Blogger glen roth said...

I think you are right "Tragedy happens, and I can't begin to imagine the sorrow of the firefighters' families. But not every tragic event has to have a scapegoat." But unfortunately in the city of NY you don't get votes unless you can blame some. Its sad because their are many good people that get blamed for thing they have no control over. I bet the landlord didn't even no that these walls were constructed.

1:34 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I bet the landlord didn't even no that these walls were constructed.

That is what he is claiming.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this seems like an regular case of negligence, the problem is in the causation. I don't necessarily agree that this was unforseen and unrelated. Of course you hope the building won't catch fire, but there are fire safety laws in place to minimize the danger if a fire does break out and it's up to the owner/landlord and caretaker and tenant to make sure these laws are complied with. This is a regular case of negligence per se. A law was violated. The law's primary purpose was to prevent the harm that resulted in this case. Therefore the violator of the law is guilty for the harm caused.
The firefighters death was directly caused by the illegaly constructed walls which not only spread the fire and created a hazard to them that is more than the usual fire, and also it prevented them from finding the fire stairs leading them to jump to their deaths. Thus the landlord, owner, caretaker and tenant could be held liable. Whether they should share that liability with the Fire Dept who were understaffed and poorly trained is a separate question. If they are also found guilty then a jury or judge will divide the liability btwn them, whether that's jail time or monetary compensation.
This is what we call accountability and justice. Welcome to America.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Orthonomics said...

I'm no lawyer and can't comment on the legal (or political) ramifications. However, I think that we should all take a lesson from the story and remember that building and fire codes are not a bunch of bunk. We should remember that these laws were enacted for our own safety.

I have been in several open houses where a "room" is not really a room at all, as there is no escape in the case of a fire. So, please don't try to see me a 3 bedroom house as a 5 bedroom, when I can't sleep a kid in one of those rooms.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

IANAL, but where is the intent? How can someone be held directly responsible without intent?

I believe this would fall under the rubric of "reckless disregard." Indeed, in such a case--ignoring safety laws for money--it is hard to consider the actions of the landlord as anything else.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to Orthomom and those who agreed with her - it seems like you can now see the where defense attorneys are coming from when they defend suspects and shady characters. I am not saying that OJ is innocent but brave firefighters lost their lives, at least 2 families are grieving and you wanted to let a guilty party off the hook. I think that's great. That is the core of the American system- innocent until proven guilty and every person gets their day in court. People always ask lawyers how they like putting criminals on the street, but I think that for those who didn't appreciate them until now finally can.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prosecuting the guilty is not scapegoating. The fire department made tactical error (asumig all building they enter are up to code). This is a bad asuption, they admited it and are correcting thei errors for the future. They didn't break the law.
The person who broke the law, seriouly violating fire code, is being prosecuted. What should be the punishment for people who put firefighter's and tenants lives at risk (and in this caes, resulting in death)?

11:08 AM  

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