Negligent Building Owner Gets 6 Months Where 2 Chicago Firefighters Died Fighting Fire

South Holland man cops guilty plea to felony criminal contempt of court charge for failure to make court ordered repairs before fatal fire in December 2010.

CFD Edward Stringer's coat and helmet on front of fire engine bearing his casket as it proceeded down 103rd Street in Oak Lawn in December 2010. | Lorraine Swanson
CFD Edward Stringer's coat and helmet on front of fire engine bearing his casket as it proceeded down 103rd Street in Oak Lawn in December 2010. | Lorraine Swanson

A South Holland man was sentenced Thursday morning after pleading guilty for failure to make court-ordered repairs on a Chicago building that he owned where two Chicago firefighters were killed fighting a fire in December 2010.

Chuck Dai, 65, pled guilty to a felony criminal contempt of court charge in a rare criminal proceeding. Dai failed to comply with an agreed court order to secure and repair the building’s roof prior to the outbreak of the fatal fire.

Dai was sentenced to six months in Cook County Jail and ordered to pay a $5,229 fine following a sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago on Thursday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced.

Alvarez said the grave circumstances in the case warranted criminal penalties, when failure to comply with building codes would typically result in administrative sanctions.

“Building owners have a legal and a civic responsibility to maintain their properties in our neighborhoods in a safe and responsible manner and this case represents our commitment to holding building owners accountable,” Alvarez said in a press release.

On Dec. 22, 2010, dozens of Chicago firefighters responded to a fire inside a vacant commercial laundry at 1738-1744 E. 75th St. in Chicago. The blaze began near the rear door and quickly spread throughout the entire building. When firefighters went up to the roof to vent the building, the roof collapsed, killing Chicago firefighters Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34.  An additional 14 firefighters were injured battling the blaze, prosecutors said.

City of Chicago building inspectors had visited the building, which was vacant in 2007, and cited the property with 14 building code violations. Inspectors specifically noted that the roof and roof trusses were rotted, had holes and were leaking.

Over the next year, prosecutors said that Dai failed to show up at numerous court dates, resulting in fines of more than $14,000 for failing to address the violations. In an attempt to reduce the fines, Dai agreed to make all of the required repairs and secure the building from trespassers in October 2009.

Prosecutors said that Dai failed to make good on the court-ordered repairs. The Chicago Tribune reported that city records also showed that city building inspectors never followed through to make sure that the repairs were made before the fatal fire.

Dai’s attorney, Gene Murphy, told the paper that his client pled guilty to spare the families of those killed and injured further trauma from having to sit through a trial.

“Hopefully this provides a bit of closure so everyone can move on,” Murphy said.

Alvarez stated that urban blight is a challenging issue that continues to pose threats to public safety.

“We will do all that is possible to protect our first responders from the type of negligence that led to this terrible tragedy for the families of these public servants and the entire Chicago Fire Department,” she said.


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