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Grand jury investigating Wells group home fire

Grand jury investigating Wells group home fire

A Hamilton County grand jury is investigating the March 21 group home fire in Wells that killed four

A Hamilton County grand jury is investigating the March 21 group home fire in Wells that killed four of the nine developmentally disabled residents.

Wells Supervisor Brian Towers said Monday he has talked to individuals who have testified. He said it was their impression that the grand jury is not probing allegations of a crime.

That assessment was confirmed by Senior Investigator Karl Meybaum of the state police bureau of criminal investigation, who acknowledged Monday that a grand jury is meeting and that it is reviewing the circumstances of the fire in preparation for making recommendations to the appropriate agencies.

Hamilton County District Attorney James Curry said he could neither confirm nor deny a grand jury has convened to investigate the fire.

A spokeswoman for the state agency that operated the home, Nicole Weinstein of the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, said agency officials are aware of the grand jury investigation.

When asked if agency personnel have been subpoenaed to testify, she said subpoenas are served on individuals, not the agency, and she deferred comment to Curry on the scope of the investigation.

Officials said the separate investigations by OMRDD and the state office of Fire Prevention and Control are also continuing.

The Wells Volunteer Fire Department was called to the scene shortly after the two staffers on duty were awakened around 5:30 a.m. and managed to rescue five of the nine residents.

The home on Riverview Road was only about a year old and fire officials said they were surprised at how quickly the blaze moved from the back porch area through the structure.

In comments shortly after the fire, Towers, who was also on the scene as a volunteer firefighter, said, “It doesn’t seem possible for a brand new building to burn as quickly as that one did.”

There has been speculation that the building’s sprinkler system did not function correctly.

Officials of the various agencies have declined comment pending the completion of the investigations.

Construction of the $1 million home was supervised by the state Dormitory Authority and a spokesman for that agency has expressed confidence that it met state building codes.

Meanwhile, responding to complaints from Wells officials that firefighters were handicapped because they had no information about the structure and its layout, state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, is sponsoring legislation requiring state agencies to file building plans of their facilities with municipalities.

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