[Hpn] Fw: Homeless in Worcester Fire Tragedy Not Criminals
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
> Worcester warehouse on fire cannot be held responsible
> for the deaths
> of six men who died fighting the blaze, a judge ruled
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> ''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
> several firefighters' widows, who have filed a negligence
> against the building's owner, would also sue Barnes and
> 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
> ''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
> This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on
> Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
> "When they come for the innocent without crossing over
> your body, cursed be your religion and your life." Anon. --