Criminal investigation in Queens fire

November 9, 2009 2:46:02 PM PST
The Queens District Attorney has launched a full criminal investigation into a house fire in Queens that killed three people over the weekend. As police monitored the now vacant two-story home on 65th street in Woodside, residents reacted to the news. "Many people live in the house," neighbor Veronica Castillo said. "This is a problem."

City leaders acknowledged the home had been illegally subdivided, a renovation that perhaps cost the victims their lives.

Records from the Department of Buildings show inspectors responded to complaints and visited the home in 1990 and then again in 2004. And while inspectors saw nothing wrong, the department is now reviewing those findings.

"As part of any inspection investigation, we will always look back at paper records and interviews to figure out what took place at that time," Buildings Commissioner Robert Limandri said.

"If you want to change the layout of your home, you should do it legally, absolutely," neighbor Phil Morales said. "And there's ways of doing that."

The homeowner was among the four other people injured in the fire. He suffered severe burns and remains hospitalized. Inspectors cited him for illegal occupancy, failure to provide a basement exit and constructing renovations without a permit.

Neighbors meantime, say close family ties and the poor economy are two reasons why many of the homes in this community are renovated and overcrowded.

"There are many people who come from their home countries and their relatives house them here," Woodside resident Rosa Chavera said.

"If you look today, people have to pay the taxes, utilities, and they're losing their jobs," resident Barbara Huzovic said. "How are they going to live?"

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