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New claims blame city for Jay Street fire

The Jay Street Fire

New claims blame city for Jay Street fire

The families of two people who died in the Jay Street fire on March 6 have filed notices of claim ag
New claims blame city for Jay Street fire
Schenectady firefighters battle a multiple alarm fire at 104 Jay Street directly across from City Hall after flames broke out shortly after 2 a.m. Friday. Several residents escaped the fast moving flames.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The families of two people who died in the Jay Street fire on March 6 have filed notices of claim against the city, citing wrongful death due to the city’s negligence.

The families of Jermaine Allen, 37, and Robert Thomas, 31, who both died in the fire, have retained Troy law firm Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, seeking damages for the injuries, conscious pain, suffering and death of Allen and Thomas.

Allen was the boyfriend of 104 Jay St. resident Berenices Suarez, 33, who also died in the fire. Allen was the father of a 5-year-old boy, Jarrell. The child’s mother, Heather Rollins, filed the notice of claim.

Attorney E. Stewart Jones said the child lived with Rollins after Rollins and Allen separated but that Allen maintained a relationship with his son.

Allen, who was visiting Suarez at the time of the fire, lived at 100-102 Jay St., Jones said. That building was also destroyed in the fire, but all tenants escaped safely.

Thomas’ mother, Ethel Roberson, also filed a notice of claim. Thomas served in the military and was honorably discharged from the Army National Guard in Connecticut in 2014 and then moved to Schenectady.

The claims — a precursor to a lawsuit — state that the city had notice and knowledge “of the dangerous and hazardous condition of the premises where the injuries and deaths occurred.”

According to city building inspector Eric Shilling, the Office of Code Enforcement inspected all 20 units of 104 Jay St. — 18 of them occupied at the time — the day before the fire.

The department cited the property owner for an expired alarm system certification, Shilling said, which had a Feb. 26 expiration date. He stressed that doesn’t mean the alarms were not working during the fire.

Several former tenants of 100-104 Jay St. told The Daily Gazette after the fire that the alarms did not go off during the massive 2 a.m. blaze and that the sprinkler system in 100-102 Jay St. was not working.

The claims argue that the city is, in part, responsible for the deaths of Allen and Thomas and that the city chose not to replace nonworking alarms, smoke detectors and sprinklers.

The city is liable for “choosing not to alert, inform and warn the tenants of the building of the fire risks associated with their continued presence in the building,” the claims say.

Suarez’s family also filed a notice of claim against the city and is being represented by attorney John Massaroni of the DeLorenzo Law Firm.

Harry Simpson, 59, of 104 Jay St., also died in the fire. The fire started in Simpson’s fourth-floor apartment after he accidentally set fire to a chair with a cigarette, candle or incense, according to Schenectady Fire Chief Ray Senecal.

The owner of 104 Jay St., Ted Gounaris of Nassau County, also filed a notice of claim against the city, stating that fire hydrants near the building were not working properly at the time of the fire.

Senecal said earlier this week there were no problems with the hydrants and there was excellent water supply.

Gounaris’ claim also says the city should have known the building next door was not being maintained and did not have insurance. Gounaris and property manager Ideal Property Services are facing several lawsuits from former tenants.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said last month that he believes the sprinkler system in 100-102 Jay St. was turned off at the time of the fire.

Robert Reisinger, Marilynn Reisinger and John Sellie Jr., all of 104 Jay St., also filed a notice of claim against the city on June 3. Warren Hickson of 100-102 Jay St. filed a notice of claim on June 4.

The 90-day deadline to file a notice of claim related to the Jay Street fire was Thursday, but city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said additional claims could be filed after that deadline.

Falotico said claims could be filed late; however, if the claim is ultimately denied by the city due to the late filing, a judicial approval is required for the claimant to file a lawsuit.

There are a total of 12 notices of claims against the city regarding the Jay Street fire to date.

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