Brooklyn Boro

Flatbush landlord charged with manslaughter in ‘dead man’s room’ fire

DA charges Leon illegally subdivided apartment

May 17, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The owner of a Flatbush apartment building who rented out rooms in an illegally subdivided apartment has been indicted on manslaughter and other charges stemming from a fatal fire caused by a space heater that left one tenant dead and several injured, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. 

The deceased victim was trapped in his room with no way to escape the fire and jumped from a third-floor window to his death, according to the indictment.

Defendant Evener Leon, 62, of Flatbush, was arraigned before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on a seven-count indictment in which he is charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree reckless endangerment and four counts of endangering the welfare of a child. 

Leon was released without bail and ordered to return to court on June 30, 2021. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.

According to the investigation, Leon was the owner of 1776 Nostrand Ave., a three-story, two-family dwelling with a commercial space on the first floor. The defendant and his family lived in the second-floor apartment, and the third-floor apartment was divided into four illegal apartments occupied by a total of seven adults and four children.

Furthermore, it is alleged, the building did not have gas or heat because the defendant stopped paying his utility bills years before the fire. Instead, he provided tenants with space heaters, and they used hot plates to cook their meals.

On Dec. 2, 2019, at approximately 4 a.m., a two-alarm fire erupted at 1776 Nostrand Ave., starting on the second floor and spreading to the third floor, according to the investigation. Eight adults and five children were home at the time. Most suffered some smoke inhalation and other injuries as they crowded onto a rear fire escape to get out of the building.

A tenant who occupied a small room in the front of the building, Jean Yves Lalanne, 70, was trapped by the fire in what firefighters refer to as a “dead man’s room” because once the fire engulfed the stairwell he had no way to exit. There was no fire escape in the front of the building, and he was unable to reach the rear fire escape because of the layout of the third floor. Lalanne jumped from the third-floor window and fell to his death.

Fire marshals determined that it was an electrical fire that started in the insulation of a cord connected to a space heater in the rear bedroom on the second floor and spread up to the third floor.

The Department of Buildings determined that Lalanne did not have free and unobstructed access to exits. Additionally, there were no sprinkler heads on the second or third floors, and there were no fireproof or self-closing doors on the third floor.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “This defendant was well aware of the dangers he allegedly created and allowed to persist, but tragically and disastrously chose to disregard building safety regulations leaving a tenant with no way to escape the fire

Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett said, “This tragedy was preventable and exemplifies why disregarding New York City building laws is not only illegal but also dangerous conduct. Apartments without safe escape routes or without the proper fire safeguards can have grave consequences as this incident demonstrates.”

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said, “When critical safety regulations are ignored and apartments are illegally subdivided, lives are needlessly placed in danger.” 

The district attorney thanked the New York City Department of Investigation, the New York City Department of Buildings and the New York City Fire Department for their assistance in their investigation.

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