Decades of defiance and ignored safety warnings regarding fire and building code violations have reached a crisis point in Rockland County.
News 12 takes a look back at an over 15-year investigation by senior investigative reporter Tara Rosenblum documenting hundreds of complaints and code violations left to fester for years - and culminating in fires and fatalities.
Rosenblum's initial investigation into fire safety failures in Rockland County began in 2006 and led to widespread community outrage that many hoped would lead to change, but our latest investigation proves many of the same problem we exposed more than a decade ago still persists today - and in some cases have grown worse.
Experts had long predicted that someone would be killed. It finally happened in 2021 when Altice employee and Spring Valley firefighter Jared Lloyd died trying to save lives during the fire at the Evergreen Court Home For Adults. "My son gave his life to save others. And I try to remind myself of that," says Lloyd's father, Calvin Lloyd, of his only child. "It's a shame that it has to take a tragedy for it to come to light."
In the aftermath of the fire, the Turn To Tara team headed to Spring Valley Village Hall to seek public building inspector reports but was hit with resistance.
News 12 then received a tip that the alarm system at Evergreen Court was turned off, possibly to prevent it from going off during a kosher ritual to prepare the kitchen for Passover. This led to even more tips coming in. A scathing letter acquired by Rosenblum revealed that there were no building inspector reports from the Evergreen Court Home going back three years.
Six people were charged in connection to the fire. The most serious charges were filed against Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer, the rabbi and son independently hired to kosherize the kitchen for Passover. They were accused of turning off fire alarms at the time and leaving burning materials unattended - subsequently sparking the fire that killed Lloyd and a resident.
Wayne Ballard, a Spring Valley building inspector, and Raymond Canario, a Spring Valley assistant building inspector were accused of charges, including filing false documents.
The executive director of Evergreen Court and an employee also initially faced charges in connection to the fire, but the charges were resolved, according to the district attorney in March 2022.
However, it was not a surprising turn of events for former Rockland County emergency director Gordon Wren.
"We're overdue for a tragedy," says Wren.
Our investigation found not only dozens of examples of bad landlords but also inspectors who were often overworked and understaffed, allowing for violations and substandard conditions to linger for decades.
Over the years, we have also tracked the criminal charges filed against several public officials and inspectors, but critics say it was all just a smokescreen.
For instance, a fire inspector accused of giving passing grades to 15 failing schools was demoted but then quickly promoted again - soon after the state mysteriously got rid of its oversight monitor, Erika Krieger. This was shortly after the fire at Evergreen Court.
The secretary of state's office refuses to release the information about Krieger's departure. It has also denied all of News 12's interview requests.
Things began to look optimistic by the end of 2021. In November, the New York Department of State ordered Rockland County to take over Spring Valley's Building Department by Feb. 14. It was an unprecedented move.
The county did take over as expected, but there were bumps. Just before the takeover, in early February, Spring Valley's Building Department was caught on camera refusing to give the necessary documents over to the director for the new County Office of Building and Codes.
Progress has been made. In April 2022, county inspectors found dozens of code violations in a Spring Valley neighborhood, which led the county to issue fines for over 30 properties. In May 2022, Rockland County's Office of Building and Codes issued its first civil penalty in the Village of Spring Valley - and it came with a hefty fine to pay.
Challenges still remain for code enforcers, including a recent social media post that urges residents to keep the inspectors out of their homes and businesses.
It's the kind of scenario where if a fire were to break out again, additional emergency responders could be at risk and another family left to mourn.
"I know he's got his wings, you know, because I know that night the angels took him," says Jared Lloyd's father, Calvin.
Frank Bruce: Photographer, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Lee Danuff: Senior Producer, News 12 Digital
James DiGrigorio: Graphic Designer, News 12
Alan Flamenhaft: Photographer/Editor, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Audrey Gruber: Vice President of News, Altice USA
Stan Kowalski: News Director, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Rocco Marrongelli: Graphic Artist
Scott McGee: Anchor/Managing Editor
Frank Pokorney: Assistant News Director, News 12 Digital
Tara Rosenblum: Senior Investigative Reporter, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Jean Salzarulo: Investigative Producer, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Annette Stellato : Assistant News Director, News 12 Westchester/Hudson Valley
Chris Vaccaro: Vice President, News 12 Digital