Thursday, 4:30 PM
Authorities: building owner may face charges in fatal fire
By Connie Paige, Globe Correspondent
LYNN -- Authorities investigating a fatal fire said today that the victim's brother, who owns the building, could face criminal negligence charges because the death occurred in what may have been an illegal basement apartment.
Michael Donovan, the city's inspectional services chief and building commissioner, said Jose Torres Mayorquin, 57, failed to obtain permits to create the basement apartment in the building on Chatham Street. The fire broke out after noon on Monday and killed Jose Abencio Mayorquin, 56.
"Based on our review of the records, it appears that that apartment is an illegal apartment and further that whoever constructed it did not pull any permits," said Donovan. "We're trying to figure out when the work was done and who may have done it."
A determination that the apartment is illegal could lead to charges against Torres Mayorquin, said Lynn Fire Chief Edward Higgins. "It could mean anything up to criminal charges of negligence," Higgins said.
Alma Mayorquin, 38, the building owner's wife, said today that city inspectors had examined the house after the couple refinished the basement about a year ago. She said the inspection took place when they refinanced their mortgage, and found nothing wrong with the basement apartment, which the victim had helped build.
"They didn't tell us nothing about it," Alma Mayorquin said in halting English.
But Donovan said the city does not perform inspections for home finance companies, and has no record of inspections at the address.
Donovan said his office is preparing a report to deliver to the city solicitor for possible further action. Donovan would not comment on what the city might do.
The cause of the blaze was "improper and unsafe disposal of smoking materials," said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services, which helped investigate the fire's origin.
The fire erupted after Abencio Mayorquin and his nephew tried to haul a smoldering mattress outside, said Lieutenant David Legere, head of the Lynn Fire Department Arson Squad. The mattress got jammed in the hallway and "got extra oxygen and it flared up," Legere said. Mayorquin was trapped inside. The nephew escaped.
The victim had several children by different marriages, Alma Mayorquin said. She said she did not know the total number of his children or their ages. None lived with him in Lynn.
The fire occurred the day after a family Christmas Eve celebration, for which two of Alma Mayorquin's children had traveled last week from Honduras, where they live.
Her third child, Alma Cecilia Mayorquin, 12, who lived at the home on Chatham Street, said she fled the fire in pajamas. "I was frightened," said the girl, who ran back into the house to retrieve a coat and shoes.
The 12-year-old also said it was especially difficult to accept her uncle's death because of his cheerfulness at the party the night before. "He was happy and dancing, and everybody was hugging everybody," she said.
The house was boarded up today, the yard strewn with broken glass.
Alma Mayorquin, who works for a Boston-based cleaning service, said the Red Cross had put her family up in the Hampton Inn in Revere for three nights. She said she did not know where the family would live after that.
Connie Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org