Trial starts for building inspector after deadly Schenectady fire

February 08, 2018 06:18 PM

Opening statements were heard Thursday in the case of a former building inspector accused of doing negligent work. Prosecutors said that work led to the death of four people in a massive fire in Schenectady nearly four years ago.

Prosecutor Michael DeMatteo gave the jury a mental image of the chaos in the early morning hours of March 6, 2015, when 104 Jay Street in Schenectady went up in flames. He described in detail those who narrowly escaped and said the four who died in their studio apartments never had a chance.

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"Based on where this fire began and the rapid travel of it, these studio apartments became death traps with no means of escape," DeMatteo said.

However, he implied they probably would have been able to escape if the building was properly maintained. It was inspected the day before the fire by the defendant Kenneth Tyree, a building inspector for the Electric City at the time.

"It will be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant engaged in reckless conduct that directly contributed to the foreseeable deaths, the cause of death of Robert Thomas, Berenices Suarez, Jermaine Allan and Harry Simpson," DeMatteo added.

He told the jury the fire alarm system was not working properly two weeks before the fire. He also said Tyree observed a lack of fire doors in the building and failed to take action.

"Without these doors in between the stairwells connecting floors above each other, the fire is spread much more rapidly," he added.

However, Tyree's attorney Mark Gaylord fired back, saying his client didn't have the authority at the time to even write a violation.

"Why? Because he wasn't certified on March 5th, 2015," said Gaylord.

He told jurors that Tyree was a provisional employee and did a diligent inspection of the building. Months after the fire, he said the city promoted him as a code enforcement officer.

"Until the big witch hunt when he was fired from the city because he's the scapegoat," Gaylord said.

Eric Schilling, the head of the building department in Schenectady at the time committed suicide as the case was being investigated. But the DA's office said he was not a target of the investigation.

Meanwhile, the former building manager, Jason Sacks, pleaded guilty for his part in the case. He's facing one to three years in prison when he's sentenced in March. Tyree could face 15 years in prison if he's convicted.


WNYT Staff

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