Monday, April 27, 2015

Kensington factory fire widow: Firefighters died because owners ignored squatters, other risks

The widow of a firefighter killed in last year's Kensington factory fire sued the building's owners for wrongful death and negligence yesterday, saying they ignored dangerous conditions that led to the inferno that left two firefighters dead.

Kensington factory fire widow: Firefighters died because owners ignored squatters, other risks

Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, killed in April 2012 Kensington factory fire
Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney, killed in April 2012 Kensington factory fire

The widow of a firefighter killed in last year’s Kensington factory fire has sued the building’s owners for wrongful death and negligence, saying they ignored dangerous conditions that led to the inferno that left two firefighters dead.

Diane Neary said the owners knew that “over 60 vandals, vagrants, drug dealers, prostitutes, looters and other individuals” were illegally living in the old Thomas Buck hosiery factory at York and Jasper streets but did nothing to oust them, according to the lawsuit first filed Sept. 26 in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. Fire broke out in the blighted building on April 9, 2012, and fire Lt. Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney died when a warehouse wall collapsed on them as they battled the flames.

Named in the 35-page complaint are Yechial Lichtenstein and Nahman Lichtenstein of Brooklyn, Toby Moskovits of Manhattan, and their companies, York Street Property Development, Heritage Equity Partners and YML Realty Inc.

At the time of the fire, the Lichtensteins and Moskovits were known as “New Yorkers who collect and neglect,” because they owned 31 properties in Philadelphia, 24 of which were tax-delinquent, according to Neary’s lawsuit. Besides owing more than $400,000 in back taxes and penalties, the trio also had racked up more than $10,000 in unpaid water bills for their properties, the lawsuit charges.

The city cited them three times between November 2011 and March 2012 for failing to secure the property and began sheriff’s sale proceedings in February 2012, according to the complaint.

Besides the city’s overtures, citizens and members of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation repeatedly contacted the owners to ask them to address the problems plaguing the property, according to the lawsuit.

Before the fire, Yechial Lichtenstein toured the property in an attempt to rent it and saw the dangerous conditions, including “holes from the floor through the roof as well as combustible materials ... (and) bedding and recently opened food containers” suggesting squatters lived there, according to the lawsuit.

Looters regularly stripped the five-story factory of copper wiring and other materials, creating dire fire risks in a structure that lacked a sprinkler system, the lawsuit claims.

“They deliberately ignored those dangers, thereby risking a catastrophe to the Kensington community as well as the firemen who responded to the fire call,” Neary’s attorneys Thomas W. Sheridan and Christopher D. Hinderliter wrote in the complaint.

Stephen A. Cozen, who represents the owners, and Neary’s attorneys, and Sheridan and Hinderliter couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

About this blog

Philly Confidential, which covers crime in Philadelphia and the suburbs, is written by Daily News staffers Dana DiFilippo, Stephanie Farr, Vinny Vella and Morgan Zalot.

E-mail tips to DiFilippo at difilid@phillynews.com and follow her on Twitter here.

E-mail tips to Farr at farrs@phillynews.com and follow her on Twitter here.

E-mail tips to Vella at vellav@phillynews.com and follow him on Twitter here.

E-mail tips to Zalot at zalotm@phillynews.com and follow her on Twitter here.

The Philly Confidential team
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected