A fire on August 3 in Noyac left two sisters dead and two families devastated.
A solicitor for the family of the two young women who died in a fire at a rented house in Noyac this summer has written to Suffolk District Attorney Raymond Tierney asking why his office was involved in the tragedy that struck the holidaymaker has not filed a criminal complaint family on August 3.
The family “are trying to understand how two murders took place in your area of responsibility more than two months ago and neither your office nor the relevant law enforcement agencies have taken any action to investigate the matter,” their attorney Andres Alonso wrote in a letter dated March 13. October email to the DA
Mr Tierney fought back that allegation through a spokeswoman on Friday afternoon, after previously refusing to comment on the fire and the possibility that criminal charges could be filed against homeowners Pamela and Peter Miller. The Wieners had rented the house from the Millers via the short-term rental portal VRBO.
The attorney’s email begins by detailing the events leading up to the deaths of Lindsay Weiner, 19, and Jillian Weiner, 21, after escaping the flames and perishing in the fire. Fire investigators have pointed to an outdoor kitchen as the likely culprit.
Lewis Wiener, 60, and his wife Alisa, 52, both escaped the fire, as did their 23-year-old son Zachary, who suffered burns on his hands; his father had burns on his hands and feet. Ms. Wiener was treated for smoke inhalation, according to the attorney’s letter.
Addressing Mr Tierney directly, Mr Alonso writes that Southampton Town Attorneys have been telling him throughout the summer that “your office is involved in this matter and will be kept informed of developments”.
“We recently learned that that’s just not true.”
After receiving no news on the case, Mr. Alonso contacted the prosecutor’s office directly and was informed, he writes, that the prosecutor’s office is “not conducting an investigation into this matter.”
He then contacted the Suffolk County Police Department’s Homicide Division, who “further confirmed that no police are currently involved in this matter…”
Apart from a cursory investigation into the arson the morning after the fire, the latter states: “There has been no investigation into this matter by your office or by the Suffolk County Police Department.”
The prosecutor’s office denies this allegation. On Oct. 12, in response to a request from The Star asking for available updates on a possible criminal investigation into the Millers, Tania Lopez, a spokeswoman, replied via email: “We do not comment on unfiled charges or plans they submit fees.”
On October 14, after Mr. Tierney received Mr. Alonso’s letter, The Star called Mr. Tierney’s office again. The following day, Ms. Lopez reported that “The DA’s Homicide Bureau is investigating this tragic arson.
In his letter, Mr Alonso highlights a report by the electrical expert recruited by Southampton Town prosecutors to investigate the source of the fire. This report “makes clear” that the outdoor kitchen was illegally added to the property, creating a risk of fire.
“To make matters worse,” Mr. Alonso explained, “it appears the Millers have taken steps to disconnect or disable all smoke alarms in the home. In some cases it appears they have removed the backup batteries and disconnected power to the smoke alarms. Specifically, the detector outside the room where the Wiener sisters slept had been disabled before the fire.”
That report, prepared by East Quogue-based East End Inspections following an August 18 inspection of the badly damaged home’s electrical systems, was included in the email package sent to Mr Tierney on October 13 . It cites 19 electrical “faults”, it concludes that the home was “not in compliance with the National Electrical Code” and in its conclusion highlights that the two smoke detectors in front of the two upstairs bedrooms were non-functional were.
One of them “was not connected to the electrical system at the time of the fire” nor had its battery backup system installed, Mr Alonso charges. “This NYS building code violation left the bedroom without proper smoke detection.”
Another upstairs bedroom’s smoke detector was wired into the electrical system but was de-energized during the fire. Although it had a backup battery, “at the time of the fire, the battery appeared to be old and not working,” according to East End Inspection chief investigator Edward Seltenreich’s report.
Both smoke alarms were older models that “should be upgraded” to meet New York State regulations for residential smoke alarms, Mr Seltenreich concluded.
After testing the electrical system, the investigator also concluded that its circuitry and distribution “appear to have been altered from the original installation” and found numerous electrical “defects.”
In his letter to Mr Tierney, Mr Alonso cited a similar case in Hempstead involving a landlord who was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter last month after a deadly fire at a rented house killed an upstairs tenant and injured two others would have. Nassau County prosecutors charged the landlord after finding there were no working smoke detectors on the premises.
Edward Burke of Sag Harbor, the attorney representing the Millers, received a copy of Mr. Alonso’s letter from the Star on the morning of October 14. He confirmed receipt – via email saying “Okay” – but had made no further comment since this morning, October 15.
Mr. Burke has stressed that his clients were traumatized by the August 3 events. The Millers are due to appear in Southampton Town Justice Court on November 18; They are facing dozens of city ordinance violations filed in the wake of the fire.
The Wiener family lives in Maryland, and Mr. Alonso’s email appears to alert Mr. Tierney that other senior officials have been briefed on the case. The email was CCed to the office of Senator Christopher von Hollen of Maryland and sent through his personal email account to that state’s Representative Jamie Raskin.
The email was also sent to Suffolk County Chief Executive Steve Bellone and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, as well as The Star.
Mr Alonso, a director at Melville Personal Injury Law Firm Alonso-Krangle, concluded by saying he would appreciate his clients having the opportunity to meet with Mr Tierney “to discuss your views on this matter”.