Bronx Fire Victims Seek to Hold City Responsible for Accident
On December 28, a tragic fire broke out in a Bronx apartment complex located on Prospect Avenue in Belmont. The blaze was started by a three-year-old boy who was playing with a stove burner. When the mother fled the burning apartment with her three-year-old son and his two-year-old sibling, she made a deadly mistake. She left the door to her apartment open. This resulted in the deaths of thirteen people, including at least four children. Seven civilians and seven firefighters were also injured in the accident, which ended up being the deadliest fire in New York City in more than a quarter century.
Kwabena Mensah told reporters that his 28-year-old son Emmanuel Mensah, a soldier, was among the dead. “I heard that he was trying to help people out,” his father said. “He brought people outside. He came, went back again, and I think on the third time he couldn’t find his way out.” Emmanuel was stationed in Virginia and came home for the holiday.
“People were on the fire escape trying to get down on their own,” one witness of the accident, Kimberly Wilkins, added. “People were screaming.” The overall scene was chaotic as firefighters rushed to get everyone out from all different floors.
Now, eleven of the fire victims filed a notice claiming they intend to sue the city for a combined total of $100 million for failing to keep track of issues inside the apartment building. Several victims have also claimed in court documents that the city should have taken the toddler away from his neglectful mother long before the tragedy.
“The mother of said child was a person known to the authorities and to the Administration for Child Services Department for not watching and taking care of her child,” the court filings state. Had the Administration for Children’s Services removed the child from his mom’s care, “said fire would not have occurred.”
The claimants, who represent four members of the Stewart family who lost their lives in the accident, eight of the injured, and one person who escaped, seek to hold the FDNY, the city Housing Preservation and Development department and ACS responsible.
In an investigation following the fire, several fire hydrants were found frozen, smoke detectors were found to be ineffective and the fire escapes weren’t functioning as they should either, according to attorney Robert Vilensky. This is despite the fact that The New York Housing Preservation and Development initially stated the building had a “relatively low history of repair violations.” Vilensky he has to officially submit a notice of claim within 90 days, or risk not being able to file a lawsuit.
Vilensky’s clients have told him they noticed city agents visiting the mother’s apartment in the past due to allegations of child neglect. “They were well aware that the mother might not have been the greatest mother in terms of watching that child,” he said. “If ACS was involved, then they didn’t do the greatest job in the world in protecting that child.” Vilensky added he believes what he’s hearing, and, “I always err on the side of my client.”