LS Attorney Rabbis who caused fatal adult home fire in NY get plea for no jail time

Rabbis who caused fatal adult home fire in NY get plea for no jail time

NEW CITY, NY − With more than 100 firefighters and supporters chanting “No plea deal” and denouncing a New York district attorney outside the courthouse, two rabbis pleaded guilty in no jail time to causing a double fatal adult home fire in March 2021.

As part of the deal, Nathaniel Sommer pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree manslaughter, a felony, and is expected to be sentenced to five years probation. His son, Aaron, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, which will carry a sentence of three years probation.

Rockland County Court Judge Kevin Russo accepted the pleas and probationary sentences. Sentence has been scheduled for Sept. 20.

The inferno erupted on March 22, 2021, several hours after the rabbi used a 20-pound blowtorch to clean the ovens and the adult home’s kitchen for Passover. The blaze brought hundreds of firefighters to the area.

Firefighter Jared Lloyd, 35, and adult home resident Oliver Hueston, 79, died in the inferno at the facility. Lloyd, the father of two young boys and a 16-year volunteer, died helping evacuate 112 adult home residents when part of the building collapsed on him.

Another firefighter was seriously injured. Lloyd had issued a Mayday alert, leading firefighters to rescue firefighter Eric Cich, who nearly died and spent weeks in the hospital. He needed hyperbaric treatment for his lungs.

SPring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd, 35, died in March 2021 fire to Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley

SPring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd, 35, died in March 2021 fire to Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley

Rabbis Nathaniel Sommer and son Aaron appear in Rockland County Court to accept a plea bargain in their manslaughter case June 20, 2023. They were charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd and facility resident Oliver Hueston, who were killed in a fire at the Evergreen Court nursing home.

Rabbis Nathaniel Sommer and son Aaron appear in Rockland County Court to accept a plea bargain in their manslaughter case June 20, 2023. They were charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd and facility resident Oliver Hueston, who were killed in a fire at the Evergreen Court nursing home.

NYC: 4 people dead, 2 critically injured after lithium-ion battery causes fire at NYC e-bike shop

Californian: Mom charged with DUI after children killed running onto California highway to get luggage

Family and friends condemn DA for his response to the fatal fire

The plea bargain infuriated the family of deceased firefighter Lloyd and his fellow firefighters, who accused District Attorney Thomas Walsh of failing to provide justice for the two victims and families as he promised when he announced the indictments with much fanfare in 2021.

Lloyd’s mother, Sabrail Davenport, expressed her feelings about the plea in four words: “disappointment, disgusted, heartbroken, and betrayed.”

Loved ones wanted Walsh to take the case for trial or at least demand jail time. Prosecutors didn’t recommend a sentence.

Walsh declined to comment on the reasons behind the no-jail plea. He issued a generic news release stating the plea and sentence. His spokesperson, Peter Walker, said the sentence was at the judge’s discretion and Walsh would not comment on the criticism.

Walker said the rabbi took responsibility for causing the death of Lloyd and Hueston. Under questioning from Executive Assistant District Attorney Michael Dugandzic, they admitted that their actions caused the fire and killed the two men. He prosecuted the case with Ryan Sweeney.

“He promised justice was going to be served,” said Lloyd’s mother. “This deal is not justice.”

She said Walsh told the family last week that this decision was in the best interest of the people.

“I asked him, ‘What people? Not us.” Davenport said, adding her son’s life was lost for a probationary sentence and $600 in court fees.

She told the firefighters outside the courthouse they and their families could be on the receiving end of a bad plea deal. She said Walsh never asked the family’s opinion on the plea deal.

“You need to stand up,” she said with emotion as people chanted “No justice for Jared” and “Shame on Walsh.”

“This could happen to you and other first responders. It’s politics.”

Her attorney, Charles Green, said the judge accepting probation defies his oath, the family and first responders.

The Sommers’ please on Tuesday ended a string of unsuccessful applicants after the fatal fire on March 22, 2021, at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults.

What were the rabbis charged with?

A Rockland grand jury indictment charged the Sommers with multiple counts of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, fourth-degree arson, second-degree reckless endangerment, and three separate assault charges.

Authorities accused the Sommers of violating multiple state fire safety regulations, including lacking permits to use the high-powered torch. The allegations include requesting the facility’s fire alarm system to be taken offline with the county’s central fire dispatching center and placed on test mode while the Sommers torch cleaned the kitchen.

The adult home director allowed the two rabbis to operate without permits. The owners, the Schoenberger family of Monsey and Lakewood, New Jersey, have not been charged. At least two of their facilities, including one on Prospect Street in Spring Valley, have been shut down by the state for multiple health and safety violations

Russo upheld the multi-count indictment in September 2022 charging the Sommers with causing the fire on March 22, 2021, at the Lafayette Avenue adult home in Spring Valley. The grand jury had returned felony counts that included manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, arson, and assault.

Attorneys for the Sommers asked Russo to dismiss the indictment, arguing that prosecutors’ legal arguments and facts ranged from wrong and misleading to ignoring and mischaracterizing binding court decisions.

Jared Lloyd's mother, Sabrail Davenport speaks outside the Rockland County Court June 20, 2023. Rabbis Nathaniel Sommer and son Aaron accepted a plea deal in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd and facility resident Oliver Hueston, who were killed in a fire at the Evergreen Court nursing home.

Jared Lloyd’s mother, Sabrail Davenport speaks outside the Rockland County Court June 20, 2023. Rabbis Nathaniel Sommer and son Aaron accepted a plea deal in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd and facility resident Oliver Hueston, who were killed in a fire at the Evergreen Court nursing home.

Firefighters work on the scene of a major fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley March 23, 2021.

Firefighters work on the scene of a major fire at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults in Spring Valley March 23, 2021.

Community members say DA failed to stand up for his words

When announcing the indictments of six people in 2021 months after the fire, Rockland District Attorney Thomas Walsh said his office would seek justice for the two victims and their families. Until Tuesday’s pleading, four other people charged either were acquitted or Walsh’s office entered agreements dismissing the charges in exchange for their grand jury testimony.

Walsh’s flowery words came back to haunt him.

Some Rockland firefighters and Lloyd’s family have been frustrated by the lack of convictions in the cases. The families of Lloyd and Hueston have filed civil lawsuits against the owners and some village officials.

And many firefighters and residents didn’t see the Sommers pleading guilty as a win for the public. They called the lack of jail or prison time a disgrace.

Chris Kear, the Rockland Fire and Emergency Services coordinator, said Walsh can’t take credit for a victory and is zero for six in the cases.

“I stood behind him when at the press conference when he told the public justice would be served,” Kear said. “He would have gone to trial if no-jail time was the choice.”

George Cich, a firefighter who leads the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force, said the plea agreement was unfair to firefighters, their families, and the county. He said his son nearly died and Lloyd saved his life by screaming “Mayday.” into his radio.

The District Attorney’s Office plea-bargained dismissals for two Evergreen Court employees, including the director of several facilities owned by the Schoenberger family.

Denise Kerr, the director, had allowed two rabbis to cleanse the facility’s kitchen and ovens with a blowtorch system without proper permits. Kerr had been charged with reckless endangerment. She had formerly worked as a state adult home administrator hired to oversee several adult homes for the Evergreen Court owners, the Schoenberger family of Monsey and Lakewood, New Jersey.

Protesters ask for “no plea deal”  at the Rockland County Courthouse for the two men charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd.

Protesters asked for “no plea deal” at the Rockland County Courthouse for the two men charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd.

Protesters ask for “no plea deal”  at the Rockland County Courthouse for the two men charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd.

Protesters asked for “no plea deal” at the Rockland County Courthouse for the two men charged in the death of Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd.

Before his case was dropped, Manual Lema of Pomona had faced misdemeanor counts of second-degree criminal impersonation and second-degree obstructing governmental administration. Lema had called into 44 Control, the county communications and dispatching center, to put the facility’s signal on hold while two rabbis cleared the ovens for the Passover holiday so a false alarm would not occur.

Russo dismissed charges against former building Inspector Wayne Ballard, also the public works director, and Ray Canario, a fire chief and former building inspector promoted from the public works by Mayor Alan Simon. He has since returned to public works.

Russo found the prosecution failed to prove they knew knowingly filed false paperwork on village inspections with the state. They were not charged in the fatal fire. Canario responded to the fire.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day, a former NYPD commander, also criticized the plea, saying it was not appropriate.

“I am appalled at the fact that the Lloyd and Hueston families will not get the justice they deserve, as the reports are indicating the two people responsible for this deadly blaze will likely not face any jail time for their reckless and felonious behavior,” Day said.

Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at [email protected]. Twitter: @lohudlegal.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NY rabbi get probation for fire that killed resident, firefighter