Death of 5-year-old could lead to change in building law

August 30, 2019 Ned Berke and Noah Goldberg
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Five-year-old Alysson Pinto-Chaumana was walking along the sidewalk on Harman Street in Bushwick Thursday evening with her mother when the girl pulled on a decorative marble fence. The heavy stone fencing collapsed on top of her, according to police. Her mother flagged down a passing ambulance, and Alysson was pronounced dead at Wyckoff Hospital.

The Department of Buildings slapped the property owner with a $6,250 fine. But the contractor who built the unsteady stone fence remains anonymous because city law doesn’t require building permits for the construction of fences shorter than six feet tall, regardless of weight or the material used. The area’s councilmember is looking to change that.

“This loss shows that we can no longer take any safety measures for granted from private contractors,” said Councilmember Rafael Espinal — who represents Bushwick — in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle. “I will take immediate action to ensure that heavy fences, and other infrastructure that is potentially dangerous, will now need City-approved permits for security and safe installation.”

Following an inquiry from the Eagle about the lack of permit requirements, Espinal’s office submitted a legislative request Friday morning to begin work on a bill requiring city approval before heavy fences and other potentially dangerous infrastructure get built.

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“Growing up in New York, I remember feeling like the whole city was my playground. This tragedy shows a devastating failure of policy, and a failure to take serious responsibility for the safety of our youngest New Yorkers,” Espinal told the Eagle.

The granite fence at 444 Harman St., where the girl was killed, was three feet tall and six feet long. DOB responded to the scene and issued a violation to the property owners for failing to maintain their property. Property records indicate the building is owned by Radhica Netchandra.

“This violation comes with potential civil penalties of $6,250. The owner could face a maximum penalty of $25,000 if they fail to appear at the scheduled hearing,” a spokesperson for DOB said. No complaints had been filed with DOB about the fence before the incident.

The property owner was ordered to dismantle the fence as soon as the investigation is complete, and DOB issued a partial vacate order until then, barring anyone from entering the property’s front yard.

The stone fence was built within the last year, as a Google Maps photo taken in June 2018 shows an old fence. In November, the city issued permits to Shah Group Enterprises, a Jamaica, Queens-based general contracting company owned by Manjinder Singh for brick work on the building’s façade.

A representative who answered the phone at Shah Group said they did their work in December, and did not do the fence.

A neighbor told the New York Post that the fence was built this past June.

“They just started working there during the summer, around June,” said Martha Garcia. “That’s new. I know it wasn’t there before.”

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