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Thread: New York Apartment Fire Kills Five

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    New York Apartment Fire Kills Five

    Saturday, April 17, 2004

    New York Apartment Fire Kills Five


    By JENNIFER FRIEDLIN
    Associated Press Writer


    NEW YORK- An early-morning fire swept through a three-story apartment building Saturday, killing five people and injuring a dozen others, forcing some residents to climb out windows to safety, fire officials said.

    Four adults and a child died in the blaze, and three firefighters were among the 12 others who were injured, according to Fire Chief Frank Caruthers.

    Wanda Gardner, who was at work when the blaze broke out, said her 65-year-old mother was able to escape the fire with Gardner's two children and four nieces and nephews.

    "The kids couldn't get through the front door, so they started climbing out the windows," she said. Caruthers said residents climbed onto the awning of the stores below to escape.

    The victims' names were not immediately released, but Gardner said one of the dead was her father, 75-year-old James Gardner.

    The cause of the fire, reported just before 5:30 a.m., was under investigation, but "anytime you have a fire at this hour of the morning with that advanced state upon arrival, it's suspicious," Caruthers said.

    It took about two hours for firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

    A health food store and a hair-braiding salon were on the ground floor of the building, which sits at the corner of a main intersection in the heavily immigrant neighborhood of East Flatbush.

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    Brooklyn Man Charged in Fire That Killed 5

    Brooklyn Man Charged in Fire That Killed 5
    By ROBERT F. WORTH

    Published: April 19, 2004

    Brooklyn man told the police that jealousy and anger over a woman drove him to set the fire that tore through an apartment building in East Flatbush early Saturday, killing four adults and a toddler, Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said last night.

    The man, Rodney Williams, 28, also helped rescue people from the burning building after the fire he had set spread quickly from the first to the third floors, Mr. Kelly said. Mr. Williams was charged with five counts of murder, as well as arson and other crimes.

    Mr. Williams told investigators that he set the fire in an effort to seek revenge on a man who lived in the basement apartment of the building, at 922 New York Avenue. The other man, whose name the police did not release, had been involved with the same woman as Mr. Williams and had apparently assaulted her, the police said.

    "There was this intent on Mr. Williams' part, we believe, to settle a score, send a message to an individual in the building," Mr. Kelly said.

    Mr. Williams, who lives two blocks from the building, set the fire using paper advertising circulars soaked in a 99-cent bottle of rubbing alcohol that he bought on Friday at a nearby grocery, the police said. After setting the fire early Saturday he walked about a block away, the police said, and then returned to help save the building's residents. The police declined to say whether Mr. Williams had expressed any remorse.

    Mr. Williams has three previous arrests, one on a robbery charge and two on drug possession charges, the police said. There have been reports of domestic disturbances at the building, apparently involving disputes between Mr. Williams' girlfriend and the man he was jealous of, the police said.

    Five people from two families on the building's second and third floors were killed in the fire, and 12 people, including three firefighters, were injured.

    Asked about the news of Mr. Williams' arrest last night, Daryl Gardner, whose father, James Gardner, was killed in the blaze, said, "It's good to get someone like that off the street." Mr. Gardner, who does not live in the building, said he did not know Mr. Williams.

    But Yvette Gardner, another child of James Gardner's, said earlier in the day that she knew Mr. Williams well. Speaking several hours before news of the arrest, Ms. Gardner dismissed the notion that Mr. Williams could be involved in setting the fire. She said Mr. Williams was a friend of the family, a well-known figure in the community. She also said Mr. Williams had helped the other members of her own family, who lived on the building's second floor, to escape by shouting "Fire!"

    Ms. Gardner, who had lived in the burned building, could not be reached for comment last night after the arrest was announced.

    Ms. Gardner and several neighbors said the man living in the building's basement apartment was her stepbrother Cleveland Bryant, a stepchild of James Gardner's. Mr. Bryant was not formally a tenant, but lived there in exchange for doing odd jobs around the house, several family members and an agent for the building's landlord said.

    Several neighbors said they had been disturbed to see drinking and fighting on the building's stoop in recent months. But they seemed shocked that someone had deliberately set the fire.

    "This is a tight-knit community and everybody's in pain, because we do not behave like this," said Roland Guy, 60, whose son owns a health food store that was heavily damaged in the fire. "This is entirely out of the box."

    Yesterday afternoon, Mamadou Diallo, whose wife and 18-month-old daughter were killed in the fire, returned to the scene with two relatives and a lawyer hired by the family, hoping to recover some possessions. The fire marshals, however, did not allow anyone into the building, which was blackened and surrounded by charred debris.

    When the fire began, Mr. Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, was at the hospital with his 4-year-old son, Abubacal, who has sickle-cell anemia. Mr. Diallo also lost two cousins in the fire, Issiaga Diallo, 50, and Mamadou E. Diallo, 30, who shared the third-floor apartment with his family. At least four other men, also cousins, lived in the apartment as well and managed to escape.

    "The entire Guinean community is so sad," said Mohamed Jalloh, a half-brother of Mr. Diallo's and the president of the Guinean Community of America. A community meeting will be held tonight in an auditorium at 1068 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, he said. The bodies of the dead will be returned to Guinea for burial, he added.

    Throughout the day, fire marshals and crime scene investigators could be seen examining the wreckage and placing charred floorboards into a truck to be carried away and examined.

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    Yvette Gardner also returned to gaze sadly at her former home. Her relatives may have been saved from the fire, she said, by her 14-year-old nephew, Quamain Gardner, who woke up first and awakened the rest of the family with loud shouts of "Fire!" Quamain also helped push his grandmother Clara Gardner, 65, the wife of James Gardner, out the window, Yvette said. She landed on the awning of the health food store and escaped serious injury.

    "She didn't want to leave without my father," Yvette said. Ms. Gardner and the building's other former residents have been placed at a hotel in Sheepshead Bay by the Red Cross, she said.

    Mr. Gardner, 74, a retired butcher who was born in Orangeburg, S.C., will most likely be buried there, Yvette said, though no arrangements have been made.

    Mr. Gardner had been in poor health for a number of years, but was well known in the neighborhood for cheerfully volunteering to clean the street, several neighbors said.

    "The bus drivers know him, the cabbies know him, everybody calls him Pops," Ms. Gardner said.

    Ms. Gardner said maintenance was poor and there were no smoke alarms in the apartment, a potential factor in the fire's quick spread. The family had lived in the apartment, which was rent controlled, for more than three decades, and paid less than $200 a month - a quarter of what the Diallos were paying for an apartment the same size downstairs, the landlord's agent said.

    But the landlord's agent, Fitzgerald Tinker, defended the quality of the maintenance at the apartment, and said smoke alarms were the responsibility of the tenant. The building's landlord, Joseph Smith, lives in Florida, and a message left on his answering machine was not returned last night.

    "I feel terrible; I don't know what to say," said Bradley Tuby, 65, a friend of the Gardner family. "I watched their children grow up."

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