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City Launches 'Rigorous Investigation' Into Girls' Deaths in Bronx Building

By Katie Honan | December 8, 2016 2:50pm
 The mayor dismissed the radiator malfunction that killed two young girls as a
The mayor dismissed the radiator malfunction that killed two young girls as a "freak accident."
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

THE BRONX — Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is launching a “rigorous investigation” into the death of two young girls killed by a malfunctioning radiator in a city-funded apartment for homeless families — but dismissed the building's troubled history and problematic landlord as irrelevant.

The mayor spoke about the tragedy for the first time Thursday, a day after 1-year-old Scylee Vayoh Ambrose and 2-year-old Ibanez Ambrose were burned by an exploding radiator valve inside their apartment at 720 Hunts Point Ave.

He visited the apartment, which he called a “warm and loving household,” and said the NYPD and other city agencies are still investigating what happened.

“This was a freak accident, a series of painful coincidences that led to the loss of these children,” he said.

The valve on the radiator came off, pushing out an “extraordinary quantity” of steam, although it’s still unclear why and how, he said.

“Something unusual is going on here,” he said.

On Thursday, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on the children and determined that the girls died of extreme overheating and thermal injuries due to exposure to hot steam.

The apartment was one of five cluster apartments rented out by the city through the Bushwick Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit that has been previously been investigated for poorly-maintained shelter housing. 

And the building is owned by Moshe Piller, a known slumlord who has landed on the city’s list of worst landlords multiple times.

De Blasio told reporters he wasn’t sure if the building was owned by Piller, but that it shouldn’t matter either way.

“I don’t know if it is or isn’t [Piller] has any bearing on this situation because there was a nonprofit management company who was actually doing the day to day management,” he said.

The mayor said he personally looked at the apartment after the tragedy and didn’t find anything wrong. The building was also inspected last month, without any issues regarding radiators or its boiler, he said.

“I looked at this apartment, personally, very very carefully. There were not evident health and safety dangers in this apartment,” he said.

“From looking at that apartment, was it perfect? No. Compared to many many apartments I’ve been in New York City, private sector public sector, was it a perfectly inhabitable apartment? Absolutely.”

Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark was more certain Piller's involvement and vowed to launch an investigation into the building owner.

There are currently 26 open violations at the building, according to the Department of Buildings.

As a precaution, the four other families living in cluster housing have been moved. Officials from the Housing Preservation and Development inspected each apartment inside both buildings owned by Piller on Wednesday, and heat was restored last night, the mayor added.

De Blasio has vowed to stop the use of cluster sites across the city, but first the city needs to build more housing before they phase the program out.

“We want to get out of the clusters as soon as possible but we need the space to do that,” he said.

The mayor — who said on his weekly radio program Wednesday that he “owns” the city’s rising homelessness issues — took umbrage over repeated questions about the deaths happening in a building where the city pays to house the homeless.  

“This is a real serious matter. Two children died,” he said.

“If you report it as it's because it’s a cluster, you may not be reporting the truth. We have to get the truth of what happened here, we do not know that yet.”