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Family Sues Landlord & Housing Authority After Fatal Fire

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Derek Valcourt began working at WJZ in September 2002. His first major...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A grandmother and her four grandchildren are killed in a city house fire. Now their surviving family members file a $57 million lawsuit against the landlord and the city housing authority.

Derek Valcourt has more on the allegations.

If not for the actions of the landlord and the housing authority, family members contend the victims might still be alive today.

The Oct. 11 fire that started with the furnace in a Northeast Baltimore home spread rapidly. Several family members jumped out windows to escape. But grandmother Nancy Worrell and four children died inside, leaving family and neighbors shattered.

Now, nine months later, comes a multi-million dollar lawsuit against their landlord and the Baltimore Housing Authority, who subsidized the family’s rent.

“This is part of their responsibility,” said A. Dwight Pettit, attorney.

Attorney Dwight Pettit filed the wrongful death suit, which WJZ reviewed. It claims Worrell and her family repeatedly alerted the landlord that the furnace was constantly malfunctioning, and never fixed.

The suit also faults the housing authority, which labeled the furnace inspection inconclusive.

The house itself has been rebuilt, though it is not yet occupied. Family members of the victims and their attorney say the biggest problem with what happened is the lack of smoke detectors.

According to the suit, fire investigations found no evidence that smoke detectors were inside.

“There’s a requirement not only that they be installed, but that they be operable,” said Pettit.

Neighbor James Allen remembers the fire.

“Smoke detectors. I don’t remember hearing any that night too. And if the smoke detectors was going off from over there, it seems like I would have been able to hear them over here,” he said.

He and other neighbors believe:

“If it was working, they would have got out,” said Douglas Smith, neighbor.

Any warning might have given the five a chance to survive.

In all, the lawsuit asks for $57 million on behalf of the victims and the survivors. It could take years to wind its way through the court system.

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