A Flatbush landlord was indicted Thursday on charges of manslaughter and child endangerment stemming from a fatal fire that killed the tenant of his illegally-subdivided apartment in December of 2019.
Evener Leon, 62, was arraigned May 13 in connection to the Dec. 2 blaze, which broke out inside 1776 Nostrand Ave., between Clarendon Road and Avenue D.
According to District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s office, Leon owned the building — a three-story, two-family dwelling with commercial space on the first floor — and lived in the second-floor apartment with his family. The third-floor apartment was divided into four illegal apartments occupied by a total of seven adults and four children.
What fire officials later deemed an electrical fire broke out in Leon’s unit in the middle of the night, according to the DA’s office, and eventually spread to the third floor, where eight adults and five children were sleeping. Most suffered smoke inhalation and other injuries as they crowded onto a rear fire escape, but one tenant — 70-year-old Jean Yves Lalanne — was trapped by the fire in what firefighters refer to as a “dead man’s room.”
The blaze engulfed the stairwell, leaving Lalanne with no exit. The victim jumped to his death from the third-floor window, Gonzalez said.
The Department of Buildings determined that the defendant did not have free and unobstructed access to exits. Additionally, there were no sprinkler heads on the second or third floors, and there were no fire-proof or self-closing doors on the third floor.
“This defendant was well aware of the dangers he allegedly created and allowed to persist, but tragically and disastrously chose to disregard building safety regulations leaving a tenant with no way to escape the fire,” the DA said in a statement. “His alleged reckless disregard for the law and his failure to protect his tenants cost a man his life. We will now seek to hold him accountable for his actions.”
Officials said the fire was caused by a space heater — something, the DA further alleges, Leon provided his tenants in place of proper gas or heat after the defendant stopped paying utility bills years before the incident.
“When critical safety regulations are ignored and apartments are illegally subdivided, lives are needlessly placed in danger,” said New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro in a statement. “In this instance, a life was tragically lost due to fire. Thank you to the Department of Investigation, the Department of Buildings, and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office for their collaboration on this investigation with our Fire Marshals, which we hope will prevent future tragedies from occurring.”
Leon was arraigned May 13 before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun on a seven-count indictment which includes charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, second-degree endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.