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
A Rockland County building inspector was arraigned on felony charges stemming from the deadly fire at an adult care home that claimed the lives of a resident and a responding firefighter.
Wayne Ballard, a 64-year-old building inspector for Spring Valley, was arraigned in Rockland County Court Tuesday morning on multiple charges, including first- and second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, and a count of falsifying business records.
"Today's arraignment is yet another step in the prosecution phase of this ongoing criminal investigation into the fatal Evergreen fire," said Rockland County District Attorney Tom Walsh.
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Ballard is next scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 8. The arraignment comes after an indictment was handed down last week as part of the district attorney's ongoing investigation into the fire.
Ballard and Raymond Canario, another Spring Valley building department employee, were indicted on the same charges. Canario, who works as a Spring Valley assistant building inspector, is also a volunteer fire fighter. He responded that March night to help fight the fire.
"I live a nightmare every single day. I don't eat, I don't sleep," he said late last month when speaking exclusively to the I-Team. He's been charged with falsifying inspection reports filed with the state in 2019.
Canario maintains his innocence and says he's done nothing wrong. Attorney information for Ballard was not immediately known.
In October, a grand jury indicted a father and son on multiple charges including second-degree manslaughter.
Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer, a Rabbi and his son, have denied any wrongdoing in the fire that killed a volunteer firefighter and elderly resident of the Evergreen Court Home for Adults. The facility maintains that the two were independent contractors.
The father-and-son duo had been performing a pre-Passover cleaning ritual that involves heating kitchen utensils to burn off traces of forbidden food. Records show that the Evergreen Court fire was reported about 90 minutes after Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer had left the facility after preparing the kitchen for Passover, the Journal News previously reported.
Evergreen officials said after the fire that Nathaniel Sommer had been performing the cleaning ritual at the facility for 15 years. They're accused of using a blowtorch that could be in violation of state safety regulations.
The Sommers were among six people charged in June in connection with the fire. Two Spring Valley employees, Canario and Ballard, 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.
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.
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.
Rockland County volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd was one of two casualties in the blaze that gutted the Spring Valley nursing home. A resident 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.
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, has 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.