Man known as 'Santa Claus' killed in New Rochelle apartment fire

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, February 2, 2024
Man known as 'Santa Claus' killed in New Rochelle apartment fire
The victim was found during a search of his third-floor apartment. Marcus Solis reports from the scene.

NEW ROCHELLE, New York (WABC) -- A well-liked man known by neighbors as "Santa Claus" died in an apartment building fire in New Rochelle Friday morning.

The victim, 45-year-old Damien Peart, was found during a search of his third-floor apartment in the six-floor building on Fifth Avenue just after 3:30 a.m.

He was unconscious and despite CPR, Peart was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Several other residents found by firefighters in the lobby were checked out, but all appeared to be OK.

The fire was extinguished in 20 minutes and was mostly contained to the victim's apartment.

A couple other apartments sustained minor water and smoke damage, but most residents were able to return to their homes.

"It was a little frightening, but sometimes the fire alarm does go off here if somebody's overcooking or something, but this time was different. When I opened up the door I saw the smoke and there was a lot of people in the hallway and they were evacuating," a resident said.

No firefighters were hurt and the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Peart was known by residents as "Santa Claus" because he frequently wore a Santa hat while riding his bicycle around the apartment building complex, even in the summer.

When he wasn't biking around, he could be found sitting on his favorite bench outside the apartment building, another neighbor said.

"He was the neighborhood character. Everybody knew him," said resident Robin Yvonne.

New Rochelle Fire Chief Andrew Sandor said he believes it is the city's first fatal fire since a large four-alarm blaze claimed a woman's life in April 2022.

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Josh Einiger has the exclusive report.


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