Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Trash Talking The Dead

"I will never understand why they didn't get out. They should have been sitting on the roof of the garage, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the fire department."
"...Again, I am speculating, I shouldn't, but you will find once toxicology tests come back there was a reason they did not get out."
"Unless, and again pure speculation, they were dazed and confused before this fire started. We're talking, you know, Saturday night, a young man, the first time on his own, two young girls -- they were not reading the Bible, right?" 
"If you mean, they made mistakes, then yes. They started the fire by careless cooking; they transferred the fire to the staircase; they opened windows and they didn't escape by many means."
Andrew Strzelec, landlord, Whitby, Ontario
Teenagers Ben Twiddy, Holly Harrison and Marilee Towie died in a Whitby, Ont., house fire that is currently the subject of an inquest.
Teenagers Ben Twiddy, Holly Harrison and Marilee Towie died in a Whitby, Ont., house fire that is currently the subject of an inquest.   Handouts; Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia Network/File

A Coroner's Court in Toronto has been hearing testimony of a landlord in the case of a 2012 Whitby fire that took the lives of three young people. One, a young man of nineteen, Ben Twiddy, was the tenant. Living on his own for the first time. He had two young female friends Marilee Towie, 17 and Holly Harrison 18, over for the evening. He had been a multiple-transplant recipient, and he rented a flat on the second floor of a building that was coded as a single-family dwelling, yet it had been altered by the owners to represent three separate rental living areas.

Moreover, there were numerous inspections of the building that identified and racked up a number of fire code irregularities which the landlord was told to correct. Most blatant was the use of flammable materials, and no exit route from the second floor other than a staircase lined with the same flammable wood paneling -- nothing that would resist the spread of fire. The carpeting was highly flammable, and so was the wood panelling. The landlord ignored all demands that infractions of fire safety rules be honoured.

Ben Twiddy spoke to the 911 emergency personnel to calmly inform them that a fire was raging and there was no way for himself and the two young women to exit the flat, they were trapped. One of the girls had seen that a teatowel had caught fire beside the stove, and she had flung it down the stairs, where it soon succeeded in transferring the fire which caught nicely on the flammable paneling, and the three teens realized they had nowhere to exit to save themselves.

The fire department was notified immediately. The fire station was almost adjacent the house, a mere 0.2 kilometres away on the very same street. Yet it took five minutes for the fire truck to reach the scene, and another nine minutes before any of the firefighters entered the burning house. There is speculation that the three young people would have died of smoke inhalation even had the fire fighters entered immediately after arrival on scene.

The landlord, Andrew Strzelec, despite having been cited for unlawful irregularities, and fined, made no required amendments meant to create a safer atmosphere for the young man or anyone else living in that second floor flat. Yet he continues to assert that he is not responsible in any way for the dreadful outcome. He rented an environmentally dangerous, illegal unit in a house to a vulnerable young man who paid $710 monthly out of his disability fund for a place to live.

Casting aspersions and responsibility on the three young people, the landlord claimed that if it had been himself in the same situation, he would have experienced no problem placing himself immediately out of danger, and as he would have it, the three teens had likely been drinking, using drugs, having sex, and they began the fire that ultimately engulfed them, he having nothing whatever to do with the tragedy.

Toxicology results cleared the teens of drugs or alcohol. Their youth may go far in explaining the fact that in a panic one of the girls tossed a burning teacloth not in a sink to douse it, but at a vulnerable part of the house; her inexperienced mind likely informed her that if she removed it from the apartment it would no longer remain a threat to them, unable in her panicked reaction to adequately consider the consequences of such a rashly improbable solution.

The landlord makes no secret that he believes the municipality of Whitby and its fire department were after him for flouting safety regulations: "They were circling the wagons", he stated, and if they were, it was for obvious reasons meant to protect the security of a situation such as what had occurred in that 2012 tragedy. Leading the lawyer for the fire marshal to comment that "What didn't come out of your mouth was an expression of condolence for these families."

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