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Prosecutors: Code inspector showed 'conscious disregard'

Prosecutors: Code inspector showed 'conscious disregard'

He says he lacked proper training
Prosecutors: Code inspector showed 'conscious disregard'
Kenneth Tyree appears in court in March with his attorney, Sven Paul.
Photographer: Steven Cook

The city code inspector charged in connection with a fatal 2015 Jay Street apartment building fire disregarded risks present in the building during an inspection the day before the fire, prosecutors wrote in a recent court filing in the case.

Kenneth Tyree, 53, of Schenectady, faces manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges in connection to March 6, 2015, fire that killed four. The building's property manager, Jason Sacks, is also charged.

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.

The prosecution filing comes in response to a defense motion to dismiss the case on multiple arguments, including that Tyree lacked the proper training to inspect a building the size of 104 Jay. A decision on the motion is expected soon.

According to prosecutors, anyone — even someone with no background in fire inspection — would have understood the alarm system to be inoperable, prosecutors said. 

But evidence shows that Tyree had the knowledge and training to detect fire alarm deficiencies at the building, prosecutor Michael DeMatteo wrote.

Tyree also saw the building lacked required fire doors. The lack of required fire doors contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, prosecutors wrote.

"The defendant's conscious disregard of these deficiencies by not ordering tenants to vacate the building or issuing a fire watch ... directly contributed to the substantial and unjustifiable risk of death or injury in a fire to the tenants of that building," DeMatteo wrote.

Even if Tyree somehow failed to perceive the risks, DeMatteo wrote, that would have been a "gross deviation from the standard" of a reasonable person in that situation.

The city suspended Tyree upon his arrest and he is now no longer a city employee, officials said. Among the other criminal charges against Tyree is that he lied on his 2013 employment application.

The early morning blaze killed four, hospitalized seven and displaced about 60 other residents, while destroying the 104 Jay St. building and the neighboring 100-102 Jay St. structures.

Investigators determined an unattended candle or cigarette sparked the fire, but the investigation soon turned to the building's safety and code inspection efforts leading up to the fire.

DeMatteo filed similar arguments in the related Sacks manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide case. He argued that the grand jury presentation supports the resulting charges.

Sacks, 39, of Sanders Avenue, Scotia, is accused of failing to maintain the fire detection system at 104 Jay St. from Oct. 20, 2014, to the date of the 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.

"These actions caused the fire to rapidly spread throughout the top two floors of the building, deprived tenants of early warning to escape and caused tenants to be trapped in the building as the fire progressed throughout it," DeMatteo wrote.

Tyree is represented by attorney Sven Paul; Sacks by attorney Paul Edwards. If convicted, the men face 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 were filed before the standard deadline.

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