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Public Housing Worker Didn't Report Broken Alarm Prior to Fatal Fire: Probe

By Ben Fractenberg | October 4, 2016 3:49pm
 Amanda and Jannubi Jabie, 18 months old and 2, died in a Butler Houses blaze, officials said.
Amanda and Jannubi Jabie, 18 months old and 2, died in a Butler Houses blaze, officials said.
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DNAinfo/Valeria Ricciulli

THE BRONX — A public housing maintenance worker failed to report a smoke alarm was broken in a Butler Houses apartment just hours before a blaze killed two young children, the city’s Department of Investigation has found.

Rene Rivera, a 27-year NYCHA veteran, was in the apartment for about 20 minutes on April 13 to fix a clogged shower drain, and later filled out a report that said the smoke detector was functioning, according to the DOI report released Tuesday.

Sisters 18-month-old Amanda and 2-year-old Jannubi Jabie were later left alone in the Webster Avenue building when incense sparked a flame, which quickly tore through the apartment and killed them both.

"Once again, a DOI investigation has determined that the City's failure to follow the rules has put children in real danger, just like prior investigations over the past two years into the FDNY, DOH, DHS and of course ACS,” DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said.

“DOI has now found that NYCHA workers blatantly flouted basic precautions, supervisors failed to check on them, and tragedy was the result."

Rivera retired “after disciplinary charges were delivered” against him, according to a statement released by NYCHA Tuesday.

The DOI also investigated 240 apartments in five other NYCHA developments — including additional apartments in the Butler Houses, Stapleton Houses in Staten Island and LaGuardia Houses in Manhattan — and found “numerous missing smoke and CO [carbon monoxide] detectors and missing or damaged fire safety notices,” according to the report.

A “majority of apartment residents” also told investigators that maintenance workers had not conducted safety checks.

DOI Butler Houses Fire Report

Former NYCHA maintenance worker Rene Rivera failed to report a broken fire alarm in a Butler Houses apartment just prior to a fatal blaze that killed two young sisters, according to a Department of Investigation Report. 

In the Butler Houses, investigators found that NYCHA workers inaccurately reported that smoke or CO alarms were working in 25 apartments, according to the report.

NYCHA subsequently took disciplinary action against nine maintenance workers, including Rivera, who DOI said failed to properly inspect smoke detectors.

“Safety is our top priority — it is simply unacceptable to put NYCHA residents at risk because of neglect or indifference,” said NYCHA Chief Communications Officer Jean Weinberg in a statement.

“In addition to disciplinary actions being taken against staff identified by the Inspector General, the Authority issued enhanced safety inspection protocols and training, and launched an internal audit and employee public awareness campaign back in June. We remain committed to building safer, cleaner and more connected communities.”

About 71 percent of smoke and CO alarms inspected were found to work properly, NYCHA noted. 

The retired worker will receive his full pension because of state civil service law, a NYCHA spokeswoman said. 

Rivera was making $67,594 when he retired, according to public records.

A NYCHA disciplinary panel moved to terminate Rivera in 2007 after it was found that he was living in a public housing apartment without a lease, but he was reinstated by the New York City Civil Service Commission, the spokeswoman added. 

The Bronx District Attorney Office's said it would not seek criminal charges against Rivera. 

“The evidence was insufficient to bring criminal charges against the NYCHA employee in connection with the April 13, 2016 fire at the Butler Houses,” a DA spokeswoman said in a statement.  

The girls' mother, Haya Konte, was indicted on criminal negligent homicide charges after she left the sisters alone in the apartment with burning incense. 

Konte is due back in Bronx Supreme Court on Thursday, according to court records.