Survivors of Hempstead fire sue building owners

Firefighters fight the blaze which started at 6:20 Firefighters fight the blaze which started at 6:20 a.m. on the third floor of 9-17 St. Pauls Road North in Hempstead. (Feb. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

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Three survivors of the deadly Hempstead Village apartment fire two months ago have filed a lawsuit against the building's owners seeking compensation for spinal injuries allegedly suffered as they tried to escape the blaze.

The fire is being investigated by the Nassau County district attorney's office, spokesman John Byrne said.

The Feb. 9 fire at 17 St. Pauls Rd. North claimed the life of Guadalupe Ramirez, 37, and her 8-year-old son, Fernando.

Emiliana Frias, 42, and daughters Emily Garcia, 10, and Esmileydi Garcia, 5, say building owners Dorchester LLC and Monte Carlo LLC and landlord Bradford Mott were "negligent and careless" and created a "defective and dangerous condition," in papers filed March 26 in Nassau County Supreme Court. The three lived in the third-floor apartment where the fire started from a candle.

They tried to escape by climbing down a rope but fell "violently" on their backs onto cement, causing "serious and permanent injuries" to their heads, limbs and bodies, according to the suit and attorney Marc S. Albert of Astoria.

"They took the only route that they could to escape the fire," Albert said. "It was a tragedy that could have been prevented if there had been certain safeguards like a fire alarm system."

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Officials with Dorchester and Monte Carlo, both of Oyster Bay, did not respond to requests for comment. Mott, 52, of Mill Neck, and his attorney Christopher Daly of Uniondale also did not respond.

The Nassau fire marshal's office cited the 78-apartment complex with several violations and management had been ordered before Oct. 29 to install an automatic fire alarm system, county fire officials have said. The alarm system was being installed when the fire broke out.

After the fire, many displaced residents complained there were no working fire alarms, accessible fire escapes or fire extinguishers in the 1950-era buildings. The fire was classified as accidental.

The fire marshal after the incident ordered Dorchester to install carbon monoxide detectors in all apartments, conduct an electrical inspection of the building complex, and inspect and repair fire escapes.

The "building was in dangerous, defective and unsafe condition which caused, allowed and/or permitted the aforesaid fire to start, spread and put residents of the building in danger," states the lawsuit, which asks for unspecified punitive damages.

Frias has had several spinal surgeries, said Albert, who said her doctor was unavailable to comment. Her daughters have been using back braces to stabilize their injuries, he said.

"The mother is completely disabled," Albert said. The daughters, he said, "have nightmares. It has taken a toll on the family physically and emotionally."

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