December 27, 2013

Landlord pleads guilty to charges from fatal Augusta fire

Safe exits, secondary egress for building cited as deficient and led to misdemeanor criminal charges, which will be dropped if owner complies with conditions.

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A Winthrop man has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges resulting from a fire at one of his Augusta apartment buildings Memorial Day weekend that proved fatal for a tenant.

click image to enlarge

APARTMENT FIRE: Smoke billows from an apartment building at 26 Pleasant St., Augusta on May 26. Onccupant John Murray, who suffered burns and smoke inhalation, later died. Earlier this month, landlord Ryan Chamberland pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges related to the fire, but those charges will be dismissed if he fixes deficiencies.

Staff file photo

CHECKING IT OUT: In this May file photo, firefighters walk into an apartment building at 26 Pleasant St. to check for remaining hot spots. Earlier this month, landlord Ryan Chamberland pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges related to the fire, but those charges will be dismissed if he fixes deficiencies.

Staff file photo

However, building owner Ryan Chamberland will be able to withdraw those pleas and have the charges dismissed if he successfully complies with conditions of a year-long deferred disposition.

“So long as Mr. Chamberland does what he’s supposed to do, the charges will be dismissed,” his attorney, Walter McKee, said on Friday.

Chamberland, 42, pleaded guilty in Augusta District Court on Dec. 19 to one count of failure to provide adequate means of egress and nine counts of failure to provide adequate secondary means of escape for occupants of the building at 26 Pleasant St..

Tenant John Murray, 62, was pulled through the window of his first floor apartment by Michael Murphy, who was passing by on his way to work and heard Murray screaming for help.

Murray, who suffered burns and significant smoke inhalation, died June 6 in Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“The very unfortunate death of Mr. Murray was not caused by the deficiencies, according to the investigators,” said Assistant District Attorney Kristin Murray-James. She added that his first-floor apartment had two means of egress.

The fire heavily damaged the eight-unit building where 14 people were living.

Two days before the fire, Murray called the city to request an inspection to address safety concerns he had about his unit. Investigators said the fire began in Murray’s unit and was related to a stove or toaster oven.

The fire appeared to be confined to the front of the building, and that portion was later torn down. The remainder is being rebuilt.

The charges were brought by investigator Kenneth MacMaster of the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Additional civil violations charging improper installation of smoke detectors and failure to provide functioning smoke detectors in Unit 8 were dismissed in exchange for the pleas to the other charges.

Conditions of the deferred disposition include a pledge to abide by the requirements of the Life Safety Code and the notice that sets out deficiencies and corrections issued by the fire marshal’s office. He has until Nov. 1 to notify the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office he has complied. He also agreed to donate $1,000 to the American Red Cross within the first two months of the deferred disposition.

McKee said Chamberland appreciated the assistance from the agency.

Murray-James said she worked with MacMaster to craft the resolution to the case and it was his suggestion that the donation go to the American Red Cross since that agency helped provide emergency housing for the displaced tenants.

“Cases like this sometimes end up with just fines,” Murray-James said. “That’s not going to require (Chamberland) to do anything differently. If he was going to rent out what’s left of the property, he would have to abide by these certain conditions.”

“None of those alleged violations had anything to do with the death of the occupant,” McKee echoed. “It was only upon the fire marshal’s inspection of the building in connection with the fire that they found the deficiencies.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631 badams@centralmaine.com Twitter: @betadams

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