Philadelphia Firefighter Deaths: Building Owners Won't Be Charged

Tuesday, 04 Feb 2014 10:38 AM

By Clyde Hughes

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The owners of a dilapidated building where two Philadelphia firefighters died during a 2012 fire will not have to face criminal charges for their deaths, after a grand jury completed a report on the incident.

The 110-page report, issued Monday, stated that Naham and Michael Lichtenstein allowed the Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building to become a "firetap" and failed repeatedly to bring the structure up to code, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

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The cause of the fire was never determined, and grand jurors found that city officials failed to take action against the Lichtensteins numerous times because of constant code violations before the fire, making it difficult to bring forth criminal charges.

"We can't just charge people because we have a bad taste in our mouths or we're angry," District Attorney Seth Williams said Monday at a news conference. "We are bound by the law."

Williams said that he hopes the report sparks reform at the Department of Licenses and Inspections, which was blamed in the report for not holding the Lichtensteins accountable for the building.

The Lichtensteins, a real estate development firm run in New York City run by a father and son, had been cited seven times for code violations and for failure to secure the property, according to the Inquirer.

"Had city departments done their jobs, these deaths might never have occurred," the grand jury report stated. "They created paper, but no results."

Lt. Robert Neary, 60, and firefighter Daniel Sweeney, 25, died when a wall collapsed on them while they were trying to make sure the blaze was out at an adjacent furniture store during the 2012 fire.

The grand jury report also pointed fingers at fire officials for not enforcing a collapse zone to safeguard firefighters at the scene.

"The grand jury report provides a detailed list of legislative and procedural recommendations to further improve safety, and the administration will carefully consider all of them," said Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety.

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