City, Landlord Sued in Fatal Baltimore House Fire

Aug. 1, 2013
The family of five people killed in a house fire are suing saying a faulty furnace and no smoke detectors led to the fatal fire.

Aug. 01--The relatives of five people who were killed in a Baltimore house fire last year sued a landlord and the city housing authority in Circuit Court on Wednesday, claiming that failure to fix a faulty furnace or install smoke detectors led to the fatal blaze.

Nancy Worrell, 55, was killed along with four young children in the October fire at 5601 Denwood Ave. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City was paying a portion of the rent on the home through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and the lawsuit contends that housing authority inspectors should have forced landlord Paul Stanton to fix a malfunctioning furnace in the home and install smoke detectors.

The plaintiffs are collectively seeking more than $50 million for the wrongful-death claim.

Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for the city housing authority, declined to comment on the pending litigation. Stanton, reached by phone, said of the lawsuit, "None of that is true." He declined to comment further.

The deaths were the result of "negligence of the owner for not maintaining a safe and operable furnace," said A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney for the family.

"More than that, we believe the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has a responsibility under federal regulations and state regulations to make sure smoke detectors are installed, operable and working," he said.

According to the lawsuit, Stanton was informed numerous times, beginning in January 2012, of the "constantly malfunctioning" furnace, which "did not heat the house," yet it was never fixed. A housing authority inspector checked the home in January 2012 and gave an "inconclusive" rating to the quality of the Northeast Baltimore home's heating equipment, rather than a pass or fail rating, the lawsuit contends.

The home was never reinspected after the inconclusive rating, according to the lawsuit, and in frustration, Nancy Worrell had the furnace assessed and was advised it needed to be replaced.

In the early hours of Oct. 11, the bodies of Worrell; her grandchildren Tykia Manley, 7; Darryl Stewart, 4; and K-Niyah Scott, 2; and her great-grandson, James Holden, 1, were found in a second-floor back bedroom in the blazing home. The two-alarm fire spread quickly through the brick house, and other family members at home at the time were able to escape. Wilson Worrell, a plaintiff and Nancy Worrell's husband, jumped from the second floor and suffered burns and a broken back.

Vance Williams III, a 4-month-old baby, was thrown by his mother from the burning home into the arms of another relative but died suddenly a couple of months later of unrelated causes.

Besides Wilson Worrell, the plaintiffs are the children of Nancy Worrell and parents of the children who died.

Baltimore fire investigators later determined that the fire was caused by combustible materials stored too close to the furnace, a determination that Pettit challenged. The Fire Department's investigation concluded that the home did not have smoke detectors.

"That's why it was impossible to get out in a reasonable time," Pettit said of the lack of smoke detectors.

At the time, a Fire Department spokesman said that the fire was so hot the home's front door bent inward, and that he was surprised anyone had survived the blaze. The home was destroyed.

About 1,000 people attended the funeral for the five victims. Nancy Worrell had 14 children, 60 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Copyright 2013 - The Baltimore Sun

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