Woman Charged with 'Black Sunday' Fire Speaks

A woman charged with causing the deadly Bronx Black Sunday blaze says her heart still aches for the two firefighters who died - but she's not to be blamed for any of it.

"I am very sorry. I am in pain for what happened to them. They died trying to save us," Caridad Coste said through tears yesterday on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the fire.

But, she added through a Spanish interpreter, "we're not responsible for their deaths."

Coste, 56, is one of three people charged with manslaughter in the deaths of firemen Curtis Meyran and John Bellew, who jumped 50 feet to escape the raging inferno at E. 178th St. in Morris Heights on Jan. 23, 2005.

Four other firefighters took the four-story plunge but survived.

Another firefighter, Richard Sclafani, died on the same day in a Brooklyn house fire.

Officials said a partition Coste had erected in her fourth-floor apartment, which she used to sublet the place to five people, blocked the firefighters' egress on a fire escape.

"If I had known it was illegal, I wouldn't have done it," said Coste, a home health-care attendant. "I needed to make ends meet."

Her excuses outraged Jeanette Meyran, now a 47-year-old widowed mother of three.

" 'Fess up," she said. "You have two men dead, four injured who will never be the same. How about if you had no partition up, period?"

Two others have been charged: Rafael Castillo, who officials say leased a partitioned third-floor apartment where an overloaded electrical outlet sparked the fire, and former building owner Cesar Rios.

Coste and her lawyer, Francisco Knipping-Diaz, say the fourth-floor fire escape was still accessible from a hallway. They insist that even if the firefighters realized they could escape through the hall, they couldn't have used it because the blaze was raging in that area.

They say the partition may have actually protected the Bravest from flames for a while.

Jeanette Meyran acknowledges other factors contributed to the tragedy but says Coste needs to accept blame.

"Yes, the odds were 1,000 percent against them, but there was nowhere to go," she said. "[Coste] should take responsibility for her actions."

Republished with permission of The New York Post.

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