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Trial offers new view of Jay Street inferno, aftermath

Trial offers new view of Jay Street inferno, aftermath

Calls illustrate fast-moving nature of deadly fire

SCHENECTADY — A man calling from 104 Jay St. can be heard pleading for rescue on the tape.

Trapped on the fifth floor of the burning building early on the morning of March 6, 2015, Diego Carter told the dispatcher he was trapped.

"Please, please help," Carter tells the dispatcher in a 911 recording submitted as evidence in the ongoing trial of a former city building inspector who faces criminally negligent homicide charges related to the fire.

"Oh God, smoke is getting up. I can't breathe," Carter tells the dispatcher.

Carter survived, rescued from a window by firefighters in a ladder truck.  Four others perished in the blaze.

Prosecutors entered the 911 call and three other calls for help into evidence last week during the trial of Kenneth Tyree. The calls are the first released since the fire.

Tyree inspected the 104 Jay St. building the day before the fire and is accused of failing to act on dangers he observed, or should have observed, during the inspection, including an inoperable fire alarm system and missing fire doors.

He faces manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide counts that could carry a five- to 15-year term. He maintains his innocence. The trial will resume Tuesday, after taking a day off from testimony on Monday.

Much of the prosecution's early case has focused on the fire itself: How quickly it spread and the lack of warning for residents.

Photos and videos entered into evidence also offer new perspectives on the devastation at both 104 Jay St. and the neighboring 100-102 Jay St. building.

A bystander, Scott Fredenburg, captured Carter's rescue on video. Fredenburg testified briefly last week, and prosecutors played his video of a ladder from a firetruck maneuvering to a fifth-floor window to rescue Carter. (The Daily Gazette spoke to Fredenburg the day of the fire.)

Carter's call to dispatchers came in just after 2:01 a.m. Shortly after, Union College security officer James Halpin aimed a security camera atop College Park Hall toward the fire scene.

Investigators have cited the Union College video, which began capturing images of the fire at 2:03 a.m. and ran for hours afterward, as important to understanding the swift progression of the fire.

It captures smoke billowing from the fourth-floor window of Harry Simpson's apartment where the fire began. 

Early that morning, Simpson woke up to find a chair in his residence had accidentally caught fire. He tried to drag it out of the building, but it got stuck in the door, investigators have said. He knocked on two neighbors' doors but did not call 911. The fire quickly spread through the hallway and beyond.

Photos of Simpson's burned out apartment, including the chair, were also entered into evidence.

Simpson, 59, along with Robert Thomas, 31; Jermaine Allen, 37; and Berenices Suarez, 33, all died in the blaze. Dozens of others were injured.

In the Union College video, smoke from the building intensifies over the ensuing minutes. The first flames from the roof are seen at 2:10 a.m. By 2:18 a.m., the roof is completely engulfed.

Prosecutors have said the building lacked fire doors that would have slowed the spread of the fire — a fact Tyree should have acted on.

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Prosecutors also entered into evidence dozens of photos from the investigation, including the fire alarm box and new views of the burned-out building from the air and from inside the structure. 

Prosecutors said the fire alarm system hadn't worked since Feb. 21, 2015, as each zone in the system had been silenced without being reset. 

Building manager Jason Sacks pleaded guilty earlier and will receive a sentence of 1 to 3 years in state prison for his role in the condition of the building. Prosecutors have said he canceled the fire monitoring contract the previous fall. 

The lack of monitoring meant the Fire Department was never notified when alarms went off, and the system became inoperable as alarms were manually silenced.

When Tyree inspected the system the day before the blaze, warning lights would have been lit on the alarm box indicating it was inoperable. Had Tyree done his job properly, prosecutors charge, he should have ordered an evacuation of the building or other measures. 

Photos of the system, which was located just inside the front door, show where the warning lights would have been lit.

In days after the fire, investigators took photos from a crane to document the damage and assess the building's structural integrity.

The photos show debris from the roof and fifth floor collapsed onto the fourth floor. 

After investigators shored up the fourth floor and excavated the scene, they took 360-degree photos. 

Other 911 calls indicated a fast-moving fire that came with little or no warning.

"It's going fast," one caller said to dispatchers at 1:58 a.m. "Oh my God, it's coming in."

Another caller, just after 2 a.m., a man believed to be fourth-floor resident Jesse Pappalau, tells the dispatcher that he or others are "going to die, man. Hurry the (expletive) up."

Pappalau escaped without injury, but suffered emotional and psychological trauma, his attorneys have said.

In none of the calls is a fire alarm audible.

"Does the building have fire alarms?" a dispatcher asks one caller.

"Yes," the man responds, "but they're not going off."

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