Landlords in Black Sunday Fire Case Found Guilty


It took four years, but there was a surprising guilty verdict just now against the landlords who illegally divided up the Bronx tenements that were the setting of the fatal 2005 Black Sunday fire. On that Sunday morning in January, on the heels of a blizzard that had shut down the city, six firefighters were forced to jump out of four fourth-story windows, falling 50 feet to the pavement. Two of them died; another four have never been the same. The incident launched a review of an FDNY policy that had kept the men from carrying rescue ropes that might have helped. But there’s more than enough blame to go around. In two separate cases, the tenants and the landlords were tried for criminal negligence. The surviving firefighters were hoping for guilty verdicts to bring closure. “We’ve got three criminals, safe as can be, walking around with their lives,” Jeff Cool told New York in 2007, “They were enjoying Christmas, enjoying New Year’s. The four of us are screwed up beyond belief. Two of us are dead. And these guys are walking the street.”

Last week, the tenants beat the rap. But today, the landords were found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. You might say it’s predictable: The jurors went after the landlords and not the tenants. Will it bring closure to the survivors, or to the families of the departed? The best sentiment may be that of Eileen Bellew, whose husband John died that day: “I still have to get up every morning,” she said years ago, when the legal maneuvers started, “and take care of four kids.”

Related: What Went Wrong on Firefighters’ Black Sunday [NYM]