Are 4 Human Lives Worth More Than $7625?
More than 12 years later and our Town still fails to protect us from Slumlord abuse.
On May 1, 1999 there was a tragic fire at a commercial building at 28 West Hills Road that killed 4 and injured several Huntington Manor Firefighters, it was determined that there were 33 people living in the home. In this home there was an illegal basement apartment, that housed 11 people including, 8 children.
Vengroff, the home owner is fined $7625. Frank Petrone responds to the fine with the following quote:
“I think it speaks very loud and clear to anyone that wants to exploit any individual or family in this town that when we are aware of it, we are going after it vigorously.” -Supervisor Frank Petrone (Sept. 1999).
Unfortunately, more than 12 years later slumlords continue to take advantage of our most vulnerable citizens at the expense of the tax payer and single family home owner. Our Town seems to continue to turn a blind eye to the situation. The documents that are included in this article show that the Town was aware of the violations and hazzards of this home prior to the fire.
Like many non-owner occupied homes throughout our Township, the building at 28 West Hills road was illegally subdivided into 5 apartments. Each housing between 5 and 10 people. The building was subdivided using sheets and card board. On that terrible day in 1999, 35 year old Maria Chicas and her 4 year old daughter Maria were trapped in an upstairs apartment and it was believed that they burned alive. Their cousin Luis Cruz, 40, who arrived from El Salvador only a few days before the fire, died as well. His body was engulfed in flames and he fell from the second story. Another resident, also 40 was air lifted to University Medical Center at Stony Brook, where he later died.
Several victims of the fire said the building had been a terrible place to live. There was often no heat or hot water, and windows had been nailed shut to keep out the cold.
The fines that Vengroff was ordered to pay were for the violations at 6 of his Huntington properties. He was also required to bring all of his buildings in the town into code compliance within 6 months. Vengroffs guilty pleas were part of a settlement between Vengroff and the Town of Huntington that reduced his sentence to noncriminal charges. As part of the plea the Town of Huntington was supposed to have access to Vengroff’s properties. To the best of our knowledge, the Town has never followed up to see that these properties are now in compliance with the town code. Vengroff still owns many properties in our Town and he currently lives in Florida.
Vengroff was quoted on September 13, 1999 as saying “the settlement was cheaper than going to court and arguing…do I think it was fair? No but it was expedient. I am sure if nobody had died in the fire or had been injured it probably would have went away.”