Philly Fire Widow Files Suit Against Building Owner

Oct. 03--The widow of a firefighter killed in a Kensington factory fire last year sued the building's owners for wrongful death and negligence Tuesday.

The suit alleges the owners ignored dangerous conditions in the abandoned building, leading to the inferno that left two firefighters dead.

Diane Neary said the owners knew that "over 60 vandals, vagrants, drug dealers, prostitutes, looters and other individuals" were illegally living in the old Thomas Buck hosiery factory at York and Jasper streets but did nothing to oust them, according to the lawsuit filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.

Fire broke out in the blighted building on April 9, 2012. Lt. Robert Neary and firefighter Daniel Sweeney died when a warehouse wall collapsed on them as they battled the flames.

Named in the 35-page complaint are Yechial Lichtenstein and Nahman Lichtenstein of Brooklyn, Toby Moskovits of Manhattan, and their companies, York Street Property Development, Heritage Equity Partners and YML Realty Inc.

At the time of the fire, the Lichtensteins and Moskovits were known as "New Yorkers who collect and neglect," because they owned 31 properties in Philadelphia, 24 of which were tax-delinquent, according to Neary's lawsuit.

Besides owing more than $400,000 in back taxes and penalties, the trio also had racked up more than $10,000 in unpaid water bills for their properties, the lawsuit charges.

The city cited them three times between November 2011 and March 2012 for failing to secure the warehouse property and began sheriff's sale proceedings in February 2012, according to the complaint.

Besides the city's overtures, citizens and members of the New Kensington Community Development Corp. repeatedly contacted the owners to ask them to address the problems plaguing the property, according to the lawsuit.

Before the fire, Yechial Lichtenstein toured the property in an attempt to rent it and saw the dangerous conditions, including "holes from the floor through the roof as well as combustible materials . . . [and] bedding and recently opened food containers" suggesting squatters lived there, according to the lawsuit.

Looters stripped the five-story factory of copper wiring and other materials, creating dire fire risks in a structure that lacked a sprinkler system, the lawsuit claims.

"They deliberately ignored those dangers, thereby risking a catastrophe to the Kensington community as well as the firemen who responded to the fire call," Neary's lawyers Thomas W. Sheridan and Christopher D. Hinderliter wrote in the complaint. They could not immediately be reached for comment.

Stephen A. Cozen, who represents the owners, also couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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