Building manager pleads guilty in fatal Jay Street fire

Jason Sacks accused of failing to maintain fire detection system
Jason Sacks in court on Aug. 31, 2017.
Jason Sacks in court on Aug. 31, 2017.

SCHENECTADY — The building manager accused of failing to do his job to protect his tenants ahead of the fatal Jay Street fire nearly three years has pleaded guilty, officials said.

Jason Sacks, 39, of Sanders Avenue, Scotia, pleaded guilty last week to four counts of criminally negligent homicide, one for each person killed in the accidental blaze.

In return, he is to receive a sentence of 1 to 3 years in state prison at his March sentencing.

He also must testify against his co-defendant, former building inspector Kenneth Tyree at Tyree’s upcoming trial, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said.

[Code inspector, building manager indicted in fatal Jay Street fire]

Tyree rejected a similar offer made the same day that would have resulted in a total sentence of up to one year in jail.

Sacks, 39, was accused of failing to maintain the fire-detection system at 104 Jay St. from Oct. 20, 2014, to the date of the March 6, 2015, fire, tampering with or disturbing the required detection and alarm system while the system was not being monitored and allowing the building to operate with no fire doors in hallway stairwells.

[Fatal Jay Street fire ruled accidental]

Sacks participated directly in creating and permitting building conditions that led to the rapid spread of the fire, Carney has said previously, “thus greatly escalating the risks to the trapped victims.”

Tyree, 53, of Schenectady, continues to face manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges.

Tyree is accused of failing to do his job by inspecting 104 Jay St. the day before the fire and failing to act on observed dangers.

Prosecutors have said the state of the fire alarm box, as well as Tyree’s observations about fire doors, showed conscious disregard for the risk posed and that Tyree lied when he said he saw the system operational. An inoperable fire alarm alone, they say, should have resulted in an evacuation or “fire watch” and prosecutors believe it hadn’t been operational for more than a month.

If Tyree had inspected the system as he claimed, Carney has argued, he would have discovered it to be inoperable. Either he performed a faulty inspection or no inspection, Carney said.

Tyree described in a statement to investigators how he and Sacks toured the building together for the inspection. He also told investigators how he checked the alarm box and “all was good to my knowledge,” according to the previously filed statement.

Aside from the allegations over the state of the alarm box, prosecutors have said Tyree’s timeline was off. He estimated in the statement the inspection took from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but city street cameras captured Tyree and Sacks at a Crane Street property at about noon that day.

The investigation concluded fire alarms and smoke detectors in 104 Jay St. hadn’t been operational since Jan. 22, 2015 – about six weeks before the blaze — leaving those sleeping in the building with no warning, Carney has said.

A Schenectady County grand jury concluded the reckless or negligent actions of both men — or the lack of appropriate actions — warranted the charges.

Tyree is represented by attorney Mark Gaylord; Sacks by attorney Paul Edwards. Neither attorney could be reached for comment Friday. If convicted, Tyree faces up to 5 to 15 years in state prison.

Killed in the fire were Harry Simpson, 59; Robert Thomas, 31; Jermaine Allen, 37; and Berenices Suarez, 33.

Many of those injured and the estates of those killed have filed lawsuits against the building owner, Ted Gounaris Inc. Many have also filed notices of claim for possible lawsuits against the city, but no lawsuit was filed before the standard deadline.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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