On July 28, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced the indictment of an owner of an illegally subdivided Flatbush apartment building on charges that include manslaughter. The charges stem from a 2014 fatal fire in the building that claimed the life of one tenant and left nine others, including four children, seriously injured. The 78 year old former-landlord turned defendant, Luckner Lorient, lawfully owned the property at 1434 Flatbush Avenue but he illegally converted the space into an SRO (single-room occupancy) that housed 23 tenants.
The three-story building was engulfed in flames on November 19, 2014 just shortly after midnight. Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was an overloaded electrical circuit that had caused a water cooler on the second floor to burst into flames. At the time of the incident, 20 of the 23 tenants were present in the home, as they began to smell the first signs of a dangerous fire brewing around them.
For the tenants on the second floor, through fast acting they were able to maneuver their way out of the building long before the fire department was able to offer assistance. The tenants on the third floor, right above the dangerous point of origin of the fire, suffered a much more difficult fate as they were trapped or overcome by smoke before they lost consciousness. Through the firefighters heroic efforts, six unconscious tenants were rescued from the third floor, many of them with serious injuries. One resident, 24 year old Jeff Frederic, died on the scene from smoke inhalation.
Although Lorient was a member of the Brooklyn community and a pastor of a church, prosecutors allege that he recklessly disregarded warnings from the city in regard to safety issues in the building. Those warnings included a over a decade’s worth of code violations and vacate orders where housing officials labeled the property unsafe.
“This defendant was well aware of the danger of running an illegal SRO, but chose to ignore numerous violations and vacate orders issued over many years resulting in this devastating fire that killed a young man and injured many others,” Said Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.
In addition, the building failed to offer two means of egress, a safety precaution that is required by law. Although the building had a single fire escape, it was outdated and inoperable at the time of the incident.