[Hpn] Fw: Homeless in Worcester Fire Tragedy Not Criminals

homey homey@ids.net
Fri, 22 Sep 2000 16:21:55 -0400

Subject: Homeless in Worcester Fire Tragedy Not Criminals

> Thanks, Mike, for sending this story.  I think the judge
> made the right, and very brave, decision.  It is human to
> want to punish someone for the horror of that night.  But
> they did not perform a criminal act. Irresponsible, of
> course, but criminal, no.
>     Peace.  Richard.
>  Court dismisses charges on pair in Worcester fire
>    By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff, 9/21/2000
>    he homeless couple who tipped over a candle and set an
> abandoned
>    Worcester warehouse on fire cannot be held responsible
> for the deaths
>    of six men who died fighting the blaze, a judge ruled
> yesterday.
>    Superior Court J udge Timothy Hillman threw out
> manslaughter charges
>    against Julie Barnes and Thomas Levesque, saying they had
> no legal
>    duty to make an emergency call when they accidentally set
> the Dec. 3,
>    1999 fire. And he said the pair could not have imagined
> the fatal
>    consequences of a blaze that, one deputy fire chief has
> said, went
>    from routine to deadly in minutes.
>    ''It is clear that not only a reasonable person, but a
> reasonable
>    experienced firefighter, would have failed to realize the
> gravity of
>    this danger,'' Hillman wrote in a 15-page opinion.
>    The decision marked a surprising turn in a case that has
> divided a
>    city. Worcester is still pained by the loss of the
> firefighters, but
>    some have cautioned against a search for scapegoats.
>    Barnes' attorney, Michael Wilcox, said Hillman made a
> brave legal
>    stand in the face of public pressure to hold someone
> responsible for
>    the deaths.
>    ''We did feel that it would take a good deal of courage
> to do what
>    this judge did, in light of the enormity of the
> tragedy,'' Wilcox
>    said.
>    But the president of the Worcester firefighters' union
> said that
>    though he accepts Hillman's reading of the law, he'd
> prefer the law to
>    change.
>    Frank Raffa said his union will push for a bill requiring
> people to
>    report fires, or face prosecution.
>    ''If you see something that is wrong, you need to report
> it to the
>    proper authorities, so we can avert future tragedies,''
> Raffa said.
>    ''I think we maybe need to take a second look at that.''
>    As word of the decision spread through the city
> yesterday, most public
>    officials were careful to take a more neutral stance.
>    Acting City Manager David Moore said he hoped the ruling
> would ''aid
>    the healing process for all involved.'' And he noted the
> fire has
>    spurred some action on the city's part: a task force
> charged with
>    reducing the dangers of Worcester's many abandoned
> buildings.
>    City officials are taking steps to tear down a cold
> storage building
>    that's similar to the insulated, maze-like warehouse that
> claimed the
>    firefighters' lives in December, he said. And they are
> considering a
>    contract with a company that secures vacant buildings
> with material
>    sturdier than plywood.
>    But the most dramatic good to come from the fire,
> ironically enough,
>    has been in the lives of Barnes and Levesque, as their
> attorneys
>    pointed out yesterday. Both have scant education,
> troubled family
>    backgrounds, and mental disabilities. But they now have
> access to
>    wider networks of support than ever before.
>    An on-again, off-again couple, the pair spent the years
> before the
>    fire drifting between homeless shelters, friends' homes,
> and hotel
>    rooms, and a room they had set up after prying open the
> vacant
>    warehouse.
>    Barnes was pregnant with Levesque's child; she gave birth
> to a boy in
>    June, while still in prison. The child is in the custody
> of the
>    Department of Social Services.
>    After nine months in prison, Levesque walked out
> yesterday to a
>    tearful reunion with his parents, said his attorney,
> Edward P. Ryan
>    Jr. Now, he said, Levesque plans to enter a residential
> program that
>    will teach him to live independently.
>    Ryan would not identify the program, but said he had been
> working to
>    place Levesque there for months.
>    Hillman had released Barnes from prison in July, into the
> custody of
>    an Ellsworth, Maine family that had adopted her younger
> sister. Debb
>    and Tim King raised Barnes' $25,000 bail and brought her
> into their
>    home.
>    ''That's our new daughter,'' Debb King said yesterday of
> Barnes, who
>    was aware of the decision, but hardly reacted to it. ''I
> don't think
>    she really understands, or it hasn't hit her.''
>    Now, the Kings are seeking guardianship of Barnes, and
> want to become
>    foster parents to her infant son, Joshua. They have found
> a job for
>    Barnes in a nursing home.
>    They are trying to contain their excitement, King said,
> in case
>    Worcester District Attorney John Conte's office decides
> to appeal
>    Hillman's decision.
>    In a statement yesterday, Conte said only he is reviewing
> the decision
>    and weighing his options. It was also unclear yesterday
> whether
>    several firefighters' widows, who have filed a negligence
> lawsuit
>    against the building's owner, would also sue Barnes and
> Levesque.
>    But as Worcester residents debate the usefulness of a
> civil suit, or
>    the wisdom of Hillman's ruling, they still share one
> clear enemy,
>    Raffa said: the now-razed building where the fire took
> place.
>    ''We avoid that site as much as possible,'' Raffa said.
> ''And if
>    you're forced to drive by the site, you don't look at
> it.''
>    This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on
> 9/21/2000.
>      Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
>     "When they come for the innocent without crossing over
> your body, cursed be your religion and your life."  Anon. -- 
> -----------------------------------------------------------
> richard@soup.org
> -----------------------------------------------------------