Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert D. Laurino announced today the arraignments of two Essex County men who were indicted on charges arising from deadly fires in buildings that were allegedly illegally occupied.
Eugene Alverna, 63, of West Orange was charged with two counts of second degree violation of the Uniform Fire Safety Act and the Uniform Fire Code by unlawfully renting out units in the basement of 123 University Place in Irvington on Jan. 18, 2009. Two people — Pierre R. Cimeuo and Innocent Francois Zavie – died in the fire.
The indictment alleges that Alverna knowingly violated provisions of the Uniform Fire Safety Act and the Uniform Fire Code, recklessly causing the deaths of the two men who were unable to escape the fire. Alverna pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned before the Honorable Ronald Wigler. Bail was set by Judge Wigler at $50,000.
Miguel Chuquirima, 32, of Kearny is also charged with second and third degree violations of the Uniform Fire Safety Act and Uniform Fire Code arising from an early morning fire on Dec. 25, 2009 in a building he owned located at 25 Pacific Street in Newark. One occupant of the basement building, Juan Dejesus Teodoro, died in the fire. Another occupant, Alejandro Cosme, was seriously injured.
Chuquirima also pleaded not guilty. The Honorable Sherry Hutchins-Henderson set bail for Chuquirima at $25,000.
Both defendants are due back in court on Jan. 7, 2011 for a status conference before the respective judges.
Acting Prosecutor Laurino credited members of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Arson Task Force, the Irvington Fire Department, and the Newark Fire Department Arson Squad with investigating these matters.
Acting Prosecutor Laurino noted that tragedies of this type occur far too often because important fire safety measures, such as hard-wired smoke detectors and a secondary means of egress, are lacking in illegal living quarters, especially in basements.
Assistant Prosecutor Jeffrey R. Cartwright, director of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Arson Task Force, cautioned building owners not to rent out housing units that do not fully comply with New Jersey’s requirements of registration and inspection.
“There are laws and regulations in New Jersey that are in place to protect the public, the tenants of buildings and firefighters from the hazards of fire. If these laws are ignored, and tragedy strikes, then building owners may face criminal prosecution,” Cartwright said.
If found guilty, Alverna faces up to twenty years in prison; Chiquirima faces up to fifteen years.
These charges are merely accusations. All defendants are presumed innocent unless or until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.