CHICAGO (CBS) — The owner of a building where two firefighters died in an extra-alarm blaze in 2010 has pleaded guilty to contempt charges for failing to make court-ordered repairs to the building, and he has been sentenced to six months in jail.
Chuck Dai, 65, was accused of failing to comply with court orders to repair and secure the property at 1744 E. 75th St., which had once housed the Banner Laundromat and Dry Cleaners. The building caught fire on Dec. 22, 2010, and firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum were killed when a crumbling wooden truss roof collapsed on top of them.
Dai has since pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal contempt of court. In addition to his six-month jail term, Dai has been ordered to pay a $5,229 fine.
“Building owners have a legal and a civic responsibility to maintain their properties in our neighborhoods in a safe and responsible manner and this case represents our commitment to holding building owners accountable,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a press release.
Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 President Tom Ryan said the 6-month sentence isn’t enough, given Dai’s failure to repair the building as required.
“Corey Ankum had a 1-year-old son that will never know his father,” he said. “Eddie left behind his son and daughter, and his mother. … It’s something that’s tragic, and probably was avoidable, had someone just done what they were supposed to do.”
The city’s Law Department filed a complaint about the property in Cook County Housing Court in 2007. While the case was pending, there were seven inspections.
The most recent time city inspectors looked at the building before the fire, they found 14 code violations and said Dai had failed to maintain it “in a structurally safe and stable condition.”
Among the violations found were that the roof and roof trusses were rotting, had holes and were leaking. Dai was cited for two code violations for failure “to maintain roof in sound condition and repair.”
Dai also allegedly failed to show up for numerous court dates and was fined more than $14,000 for failing to fix the problems.
In October 2009, Chuck Dai signed a court order and agreed to pay a $1,000 dollar fine, obtain a structural engineer’s report, submit plans and apply for permits, and either make repairs or sell the building by November of this year.
However, prosecutors said he failed to make the required repairs, and left the building unsecured, allowing squatters to move in. Investigators have said squatters set fire to wood or trash to keep warm, and caused the fire that killed Stringer and Ankum.