District Attorney Seth Williams announced today that a grand jury has elected not to bring criminal charges against members of the Lichtenstein family of Brooklyn, owners of a decrepit Kensington warehouse that caught fire on April 9, 2012, and led to the deaths of firefighters Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney. Williams blamed failures by several city agencies in the run-up to the fire and an inconclusive investigation into the cause of the blaze as factors in the decision.
“The grand jury, after an extensive investigation, concluded there was not sufficient evidence at this time to bring charges against anyone at this time,” said Williams. “We’re all frustrated, we wish there was something that we can do to give the firefighters and the Neary family and the Sweeney family closure…But we are bound by the law.”
The grand jury report, however, was highly critical of owners Nahman and Michael Lichtenstein, saying their greed and negligence slowly turned the vacant Thomas W. Buck Hosiery into “a firetrap.”
The report also blasted city agencies, particularly the Department of Licenses and Inspections, for failing to hold the Lichtensteins accountable for the condition of the 19th-century complex, on York Street near Kensington Avenue.“Had city departments done their jobs, these deaths might never have occurred,” the grand jury wrote in a 110-page report.
The grand jury did point a finger of blame, however, at the City of Philadelphia for failing to perform some of its basic functions. The report noted that the building owners were not held accountable by the city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections for repeated code violations nor for failing to pay taxes or water-and-sewer bills on the property that eventually burned.The report also faulted Philadelphia Fire Department operations for failing to enforce the “collapse zone” it had established around the burning building.
DA Williams said today he is frustrated by the outcome and wishes there were something he could do to give the Neary and Sweeney families closure in the case.