Indictments in NYC Fire That Claimed Two Bravest

On January 23, 2005, two firefighters were killed trying to escape a fire. Now, three people have been indicted on charges in connection with the deaths of Lieutenant Curtis Meyran and Firefighter John Bellew.

The Bronx District Attorney's office alleges illegally built walls blocked their escape after a misused extension cord led to the fire.

"Because of that wall and because of the additional occupants in the apartment, the outlets were overloaded, and people had to run outlets from one room to another, under door jambs, and overloaded the outlets," said Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

Tenants Rafael Castillo and Caridad Coste, along with landlord Ceasar Rios, are charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

When the fire started on the third floor of 236 East 178th Street, firefighters rushed in to save lives and put out the fire. It was inside a fourth-floor apartment where firefighters were battling the blaze. They became trapped and were forced to jump out of the window.

Not able to get to the door or fire escape because of the illegal partitions built to make more rooms in the apartment, six firemen thought their only way was to jump. Only four survived.

The attorney for the third-floor tenant, Rafael Castillo, says his client didn't start a fire and the firefighters weren't in his apartment when they jumped.

The lawyer also said the fire fighters should have had personal safety ropes, which the FDNY had withdrawn from service.

"Between now and then, if the Fire Department says, "You know what? You're damn right. We should have given them ropes. We should have saved their own lives.' If my client sits in jail for two years for that, that would be a tragedy," said attorney Sam Braverman.

Since the tragedy of the firefighter's deaths, ropes have been redistributed to firefighters to use just in case they become trapped.

But Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta says the illegal apartment conversions are the issue.

"The fire began on the floor below and then went up to the floor that the firefighters were on and had to jump from, so there would have been no fire on the top floor had it not begun below with the overloaded circuits," said Scoppetta.

Currently the 178th Street building is completely vacant and being renovated.

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