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Building manager testifies at Jay Street trial

Building manager testifies at Jay Street trial

Sacks confirms Tyree checked alarm box day before fire
Building manager testifies at Jay Street trial
Jason Sacks in court for a hearing in August 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Kenneth Tyree looked at the 104 Jay St. fire alarm box during his building inspection the day before the 2015 fire that killed four, the building's manager, Jason Sacks, confirmed Wednesday at Tyree's trial.

The length of that viewing: 10 to 20 seconds, Sacks said.

"He wrote something down, a model number, a serial number, I'm not exactly sure," Sacks said.

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Tyree said nothing after that, Sacks recalled, except to "lead the way" to the rest of the building.

Sacks, 39, of Scotia, testified Wednesday at the criminally-negligent homicide trial of former building inspector Tyree.

Sacks did so as part of a plea agreement in his own case. Sacks had been indicted along with Tyree for the unsafe condition of the building and non-working fire alarm system at 104 Jay St. at the time of the March 6, 2015, inferno.

Sacks pleaded guilty last month to four counts of criminally-negligent homicide and is to receive 1 to 3 years in state prison.

Tyree is accused of failing to act on dangers he observed, or should have observed, during that inspection, including an inoperable fire alarm system and missing fire doors.

Tyree earlier rejected a plea deal of one year in jail. If convicted by a Jury, he could receive up to 5 to 15 years in prison.

In court Wednesday, Sacks' testimony provided some insight into Tyree's alleged actions. Testimony to date had focused on the fire, the state of the building and those injured or killed.

Sacks worked for Ted Guarnaris Inc., located downstate, which owned the building.

Sacks met Tyree for the inspection the morning of March 5, 2015, in front of 104 Jay St. The inspection had been triggered by the sale of the property to Guarnaris the previous fall, Sacks said.

Delays in getting proper ownership paperwork after the sale pushed the inspection to March 5, he said.

At the outset of the inspection, Tyree asked Sacks about the building's fire monitoring certificate, elevator certificate and boiler certificate. The alarm certificate had expired two weeks prior. He didn't have any of the three.

Tyree said his superior, Domenic Viscariello, said to give them a couple weeks, Sacks said. Viscariello is expected to testify later.

Tyree looked at the alarm box, located inside the front door, at the beginning of the inspection, Sacks said.

Sacks said they went to each floor and into every apartment. Tyree checked all the battery-operated smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. He visually inspected the hard-wired detectors and passed them because they blinked green, Sacks said.

They arrived at the fourth-floor apartment of Harry Simpson, the apartment where hours later the blaze would begin. Simpson, who had terminal cancer, was there with a nurse. They asked the inspector to return later, Sacks said. Tyree returned to the building in the afternoon with Sacks to inspect Simpson's apartment.

Tyree completed the inspection of the 20-unit building, cited two doors that needed replacing and three windows, Sacks said. 

Prosecutor Michael DeMatteo asked if Tyree addressed the lack of doors on the stairwells. Prosecutors have argued the lack of fire doors contributed to the fire's speed.

Sacks said Tyree did not ask about them and added that he personally did not know of the requirement. On cross-examination, he said he thought the building had been exempted because of its age.

Killed in the fire were Simpson, 59; Robert Thomas, 31; Jermaine Allen, 37; and Berenices Suarez, 33.

Sacks denied offering Tyree money previously on an inspection, when asked by Tyree's defense attorney Mark Gaylord.

Sacks admitted he personally canceled the fire alarm monitoring contract the previous October, but said he did so at the request of the building's new owner.  Sacks said he believed that the owner had hired another one. He found out the day of the fire that it hadn't been done, he said.

"You were content managing that building and have a fire alarm system in that building that you didn't know whether it was being monitored or how it was being monitored?" Gaylord asked.

Sacks said he was. "I didn't know if the taxes were being paid or the garbage either," he said.

Gaylord asked if the fire alarm box could have been shut off by flipping the circuit breaker. Gaylord suggested in opening  statements that Sacks could have concealed the state of the system from Tyree by doing so.

Sacks said it could have been turned off, but the system had a battery backup.

Gaylord also tried to push back on a Sacks' contention that Tyree was a personal friend, noting that Tyree issued a violation two weeks earlier on one of Sacks' own properties.

The trial is expected to continue Thursday.

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