Firefighters urge D.A. to press criminal charges in warehouse fire

Daniel Sweeney and Diane Neary
Diane Neary, widow of Lt. Bob Neary, (left) and Marian Sweeney, mother of firefighter Dan Sweeney (right). Credit: Charles Mostoller

In a detailed point-by-point response issued today by firefighters’ Local 22 president Joe Schulle to an investigatory grand jury report that found insufficient evidence for criminal charges related to the 2012 warehouse fire that kill two firefighters, Schulle asks D.A. Seth Williams to find a way to press charges.

“There are no words that can describe the absolute frustration felt by the firefighters and paramedics in the city of Philadelphia today,” Schulle said in his statement. “Lt. Bob Neary and firefighter Dan Sweeney died unnecessarily.”

Schulle goes on in his statement to say that the Lichtensteins should be charged with criminal negligence.

Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, of Brooklyn, New York, still own the burnt-out wreckage of the former Thomas W. Buck Hosiery factory on York Street in Kensington, which they purchased to convert into 81 condominium units.

Instead the building deteriorated over the years until a fire began there on April 9, 2012, which led to the deaths of Lt. Neary and firefighter Sweeney.

Schulle criticized Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams in his statement and urged him to find a way to press charges against the Lichtensteins.

“The purpose of the district attorney is to seek justice for the victims,” Schulle’s statement continues. “The district attorney is not bound by the recommendation of the grand jury and it is our belief that the grand jury’s recommendation not to indict [warehouse owners Michael and Nahman] Lichtenstein was based on the guidelines provided by the district attorney’s office. This district attorney seems more interested in maintaining a high conviction rate rather than taking on difficult cases.”

However, in announcing the findings of the grand jury, which deliberated for almost two years, D.A. Williams indicated that the grand jury’s report found insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against anyone.

“We’re all frustrated. We wish there was something we could do to give the Neary family and the Sweeney family closure,” Williams said Monday.

The grand jury also made recommendations to prevent future tragedies of this nature, including a full review of the Department of Licenses & Inspections, requiring all city departments to share all information, and revising the state’s criminal code to include a charge for property owners who allowed their properties to fall into dangerous condition.

The city released a statement Monday in response to the grand jury’s findings through chief of staff and deputy mayor for public safety Everett Gillison.

“The administration has already named a special independent commission to review the Department of Licenses & Inspections (L&I) practices, policies and procedures with recommendations expected in June 2014,” Gillison’s statement said. “And recently the Philadelphia Fire Department and L&I began regular meetings to identify and address dangerous building conditions, including the use of clean & seal where trespass is an issue.”

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