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Jay Street fire survivor reacts to verdict, life

Jay Street fire survivor reacts to verdict, life

'More of the dominant thought in my head is that I'm really fortunate'
Jay Street fire survivor reacts to verdict, life
Ron Crandall fled his apartment at 104 Jay St., an escape during which he suffered burns to his head, a hand, his back and feet.
Photographer: Provided

SCHENECTADY — Every 60 seconds or so, Ron Crandall feels a stabbing pain in his feet.

It has been three years since he fled his fourth-floor apartment at 104 Jay St., an escape during which he suffered burns to his head, a hand, his back and feet. 

"It lets you know," Crandall said of the pain. "It's an eye-opener when it happens. I've kind of — you start getting used to it, almost."

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His physical wounds have largely healed since then, though the nerves in his feet continue to regrow. He is also still working on the psychological wounds he suffered as he fled for his life.

Crandall, now 56, spoke to The Daily Gazette Wednesday, three years and one day after the accidental fire that claimed four lives and injured many others.

Crandall's recollections also came a day after a jury acquitted former city housing inspector Kenneth Tyree of all charges related to an inspection of the apartment building the day before the blaze.

Crandall and other survivors told their stories to the Tyree jury. Crandall recalled Tyree appearing visibly upset as Crandall spoke from the stand.

On the verdict, Crandall sounded like someone who had come to terms with the tragedy.

"I'm just fortunate, and I'm glad that this aspect is done," he said.

The conclusion of Tyree's trial marked the end of two prosecutions related to the fire. Jason Sacks, the building manager for 104 Jay St., took responsibility for the deaths in January, as he pleaded guilty to four counts of criminally negligent homicide. He is to be sentenced at a later date to 1 to 3 years in prison.

Sacks, among other accusations, canceled the fire alarm-monitoring contract for the building the previous fall. (The alarm system was inoperable the morning of the fire, March 6, 2015.) Sleeping residents had no warning of the fast-moving blaze. Residents Harry Simpson, 59; Robert Thomas, 31; Jermaine Allen, 37; and Berenices Suarez, 33, all perished.

The jury this week acquitted Tyree of criminal charges that accused him of negligence in connection with the fire. Prosecutors contended he knew — or should have known — the alarm system was malfunctioning but did nothing to remedy the situation. 

Weeks after the fire and still hospitalized, Crandall recounted to The Daily Gazette his escape. The fire started accidentally in Simpson's apartment, and Crandall awoke to the sound of Simpson pounding on his door.

Crandall grabbed his cellphone and went to the hallway, which was engulfed in flames. He called 911 and ran through the flames without shoes to the staircase and safety. He then collapsed in the building's lobby. Arriving firefighters spotted him there — he was being tended to by a woman when rescuers arrived.

His hair was described in testimony as looking like a helmet. Crandall recalled joking how his iPhone — which he held to the side of his face as he ran — saved his face from severe burns. 

Others testified to their own stories of survival: One man survived jumping from the fifth floor to the ground; another made a precarious leap to a fire escape; another was pulled from a window by firefighters in a ladder truck.

In all, Crandall suffered third-degree burns to the back of his head, his right hand and the bottoms of his feet. He suffered second-degree burns to his entire back and other isolated spots.

Airlifted to Westchester Medical Center's burn unit, Crandall spent much of the next month there recovering.

He remembers the twice-daily wound cleanings most of all.

"It hurt like hell," Crandall recalled. "It's worse than getting burned, I think, because you know they're coming back."

Crandall continues to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder; he fears fire and tall buildings. 

He praised his ongoing care by the VA Hospital in Albany. Crandall served in both the Air Force and National Guard.

Shortly after getting released from the hospital and returning to the area, Crandall recalled being in his new apartment and the fire alarm going off.

"I remembered to put my shoes on, first of all, but [the fear's] going to be there," he said. "It's my new reality, I guess."

Though the criminal prosecutions are over — but for the sentencings — civil proceedings against the building owner continue. Crandall is one of several survivors and families of those who died who are seeking compensation. No lawsuit has been filed against the city, however.

Crandall and others will get to speak at the sentencing of Sacks. Since Tyree's conviction did not relate to the fire, it appears they likely won't get to speak at his sentencing.

Crandall said he intends to attend both, though he doesn't think he'll speak at Sacks' sentencing.

"I don't want to do that," Crandall said. "I'd just as soon sit there and just know that he's going to be away from home for a while.

"There's a lot of things I'd like to say," Crandall added, "but it wouldn't be appropriate in court."

On Tyree, Crandall recalled how he appeared visibly upset and even emotional as Crandall testified.

"He kind of — with tears in his eyes and everything — sort of nodded, like, 'hey, bro,' one of those," Crandall said. "I mean the guy, obviously this has changed his life forever. That's a lot to carry."

And Crandall noted that Tyree still faces jail time for lying on the job application he submitted to become a building inspector.

Now, three years on, Crandall is living in Albany going about his life. He spoke by phone while he waited for his 29-year-old son to arrive for a visit.

His perspective on everything has changed, he said.

"It's pretty intense, as far as living through something like that," Crandall said. "It could have turned out a lot worse. I feel very fortunate that myself and other people made it out, and I feel terrible about the people that didn't.

"I'm not carrying anger. More of the dominant thought in my head is that I'm really fortunate."

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