What to Know
- A raging blaze destroyed a Rockland County adult home in March, killing one resident and one firefighter
- The fire was intense enough to cause parts of the Evergreen Court building to collapse
- Investigators said in the days afterwards that it appeared the automated alarm system was offline at the time of the fire
Six people are facing charges in connection with the deadly March fire at a Rockland County adult home, including two men facing multiple counts of manslaughter and arson.
A source close to the investigation told NBC New York that the two facing the most serious charges are a Rabbi and his son, Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer. The Evergreen Court adult home maintains that the two were independent contractors. The district attorney declined to give specifics, although a source said a blowtorch was being used by the elder Sommer.
Besides the father-and-son duo facing those charges, two Spring Valley employees were charged with presenting false instruments for filing and falsifying records. In addition, two others face charges, including a reckless endangerment charge for the home's director.
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Rockland County officials said they plan to present the case to a grand jury, and offered only limited details Tuesday, saying they did not want to compromise their investigation. Sources said there could be more arrests made.
County, state and federal investigators conducted a raid on the Spring Valley Village Hall just last week in connection with the probe.
A source familiar with the investigation told News 4 at the time that village documents connected to the fatal fire in March were suspected to be potentially fraudulent. The scope of the investigation has now expanded to include the entire village, the source added.
The Rockland County District Attorney's Office led the raid along with New York state fire inspectors and agents from the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Spring Valley Mayor Alan Simon - a disbarred former judge who was removed from the bench for misconduct - declined to answer News 4's questions about the raid last week.
Investigators had said two days after the blaze destroyed the facility that its automated alarm system was offline at the time of the fire.
Multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of the investigation tell News 4 that the automated alarm system was not connected to the county's central dispatch when the fire broke out, meaning someone in the facility had to call 911 and report the fire manually. In fact, the system had been taken offline the evening before the deadly blaze, sources told NBC New York.
It is not clear, however, if that caused any delay in the response to the deadly blaze.
Officials would not confirm that the automated system at the Spring Valley center had been disconnected.
Rockland County volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd was one of two casualties in the blaze that gutted the Spring Valley nursing home. A resident, whose identity has not been released, died as well.
Officials say Lloyd was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene. He was on the third floor trying to put out the flames when he became disoriented and eventually trapped there. Lloyd was last heard from when he issued a mayday call, and did not make it out of the building as it collapsed.
A GoFundMe page was set up for Lloyd's children, which raised more than $644,000.
According to Rockland County officials, smoke detector and sprinkler reports, which are not directly overseen by the Health Department but which were reviewed, were found in compliance by RCDOH when checked last in December 2019.
Denise Kerr, director of the Evergreen Court Home for Adults, called the fire "an unspeakable tragedy," adding that home officials are cooperating with all state and local authorities as the investigation into the blaze continues, and they have launched their own internal investigation as well.
Kerr said in a later statement the center was inspected multiple times by the Department of Health and local authorities in 2020, and no citations or violations related to fire safety were found.
Lee Vartan, an attorney for Evergreen, said in a statement that the home "has cooperated fully with law enforcement and will continue to do so. We know from our investigation that the facility’s fire mitigation systems were all operational and functioned as intended the night of the fire. One thing we do know is the extent to which the area’s historic water pressure problems prevented the fire from being contained. As a long-standing member of the community, we continue to make and support every effort to get to the bottom of this tragic loss of life."