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Agent: Inspector's initial timeline in Jay Street fire wrong

Agent: Inspector's initial timeline in Jay Street fire wrong

'He didn't have any logical answer other than he couldn't remember that occurring'
Agent: Inspector's initial timeline in Jay Street fire wrong
Kenneth Tyree enters a Schenectady County courtroom Thursday for a pre-trial hearing.
Photographer: Steven Cook

SCHENECTADY — City code inspector Kenneth Tyree wasn't where he initially said he was the day before the deadly 2015 Jay Street fire — at least for part of the day, according to testimony Thursday.

Tyree, who faces multiple charges related to his inspection of the building the day before the fire, told investigators in the weeks after the fire that he remained on scene at the large and complicated 104 Jay St. for more than four hours, from about 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent Young Choi testified.

Investigators, however, later uncovered street surveillance footage showing Tyree at a property on Crane Street about noon that day for an inspection there, right in the middle of his Jay Street time frame.

Shown stills from the footage five months after the fire, Choi said Tyree had no explanation other than he didn't recall.

"I asked him several times how his version and what we were seeing agreed with each other," Choi said under questioning by prosecutor Michael DeMatteo. "And, again, he was in disbelief and I was kind of in disbelief because he didn't have any logical answer other than he couldn't remember that occurring."

Tyree, 53, of Schenectady, faces top counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the case. He is accused of failing to do his job inspecting 104 Jay St. the day before the fire and failing to act on observed dangers. He is free pending trial.

The early-morning blaze also left seven people hospitalized 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. That investigation lasted two years.

Thursday's hearing concerned whether his alleged statements to investigators will be able to be used by prosecutors at trial. The hearing is to continue next month. Judicial hearing officer Michael C. Eidens will then rule.

Eidens has already presided over the same hearing related to the other man charged in the fire, 104 Jay St. building manager Jason Sacks. A ruling is expected later.

Sacks, 39, of Sanders Avenue, Scotia, allowed the 104 Jay St. fire system to stop working, canceled an alarm monitoring service and allowed the building to operate without required fire doors, prosecutors allege.

Tyree's hearing also included allegations by Tyree against Sacks. 

Tyree told investigators early on that in his first interaction with Sacks on an inspection, Sacks offered Tyree what Tyree viewed as a $20 bribe. Tyree refused the offer and reported it to his superiors, Choi testified Tyree told him.

Tyree also later told investigators about a second alleged bribe attempt by Sacks, Choi testified.

Sacks is not charged related to any bribery allegations. His attorney, Paul Edwards, could not be reached for comment.

Tyree's attorney, Sven Paul, questioned Choi about how investigators viewed Tyree through the interviews, why investigators didn't follow up on comments made at the beginning of a later interview that referenced a city attorney, to determine whether Tyree was represented by counsel and why earlier interviews weren't videotaped when investigators had the capability.

Choi responded that Tyree at those points was a witness, not a suspect. 

"I didn't see Mr. Tyree as a suspect," Choi said. "He was very helpful."

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's owner, Ted Gounaris Inc. Many have also filed notices of claim for possible lawsuits against the city.

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