Brooklyn pastor/landlord charged with manslaughter in deadly 2014 fire

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Thursday, July 28, 2016
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Stacey Sager has the latest details.

BROOKLYN, New York (WABC) -- The pastor of a Brooklyn church who owned a building that city said was illegally subdivided was charged with manslaughter Thursday in connection with deadly apartment fire in 2014.

Police took 78-year-old Luckner Lorient into custody at Miami International Airport on an outstanding fugitive warrant as he returned from a trip to Haiti.

The fire at the Flatbush Avenue building in November 2014 killed 24-year-old Jeff Frederic and injured nine others, including four children.

Lorient led church services on the ground floor as the longtime pastor at Eglise Baptist Clarte Celeste.

Authorities say the second and third floor apartments were designed to be one-family railroad apartments but had allegedly been illegally converted into single-room occupancy, with six separate rooms on the second floor and five separate rooms on the third floor. A total of 23 tenants allegedly occupied those 11 rooms.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development had previously issued three violations for dangerously subdividing the basement, second and third floors.

"This defendant was well aware of the danger of running an illegal (single room occupancy), but chose to ignore numerous violations and vacate orders issued over many years resulting in this devastating fire that killed a young man and injured many others," District Attorney Ken Thompson said.

The fire was caused by a water cooler that overheated and erupted into flames on the second floor, where tenants were able to escape on their own or with assistance from firefighters. The tenants on the third floor were either trapped or overcome by smoke and lost consciousness, and firefighters rescued six unconscious tenants from rooms and hallways. Many of them suffered moderate to severe smoke inhalation, and three were seriously burned. Frederic died of smoke inhalation.

Lorient was arraigned on a 14-count indictment in which he is charged with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree reckless endangerment, third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.

He is being held on bail of $1 million cash or $2 million bond and is due back in court on August 10, 2016.