Team 12 pushes for access to records on Evergreen Court home where massive blaze killed 2
Team 12 Investigates is pushing for more information on the deadly blaze at the Evergreen Court home that killed a Spring Valley volunteer firefighter and elderly man back in March.
It's been two months since the massive inferno at Evergreen Assisted Living, and village leaders are still refusing to release crucial public documents, citing the ongoing investigation into the fire.
Under the Freedom of Information Act law, the fact that records are part of an active probe is not legal grounds to deny a request.
The only way for the denial to pass muster is for Spring Valley to prove the records were compiled for the investigation and that providing them to News 12 would interfere with it.
In this case, neither applies to the building and fire inspections reports News 12 asked for - reports that the public has a right to see.
The fight for answers began on March 23, when News 12's Tara Rosenblum went to the Spring Valley Village Hall to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in-person for the last inspection of the property.
Two days later, on March 25, News 12 broke the news that a rabbi used a blow torch to kosherize the facility's kitchen just hours before the fire broke out.
That same day, Spring Valley denied the FOIA request on the grounds that it was part of an investigation.
News 12 appealed the denial on April 2, based on previous rulings in New York courts.
But on April 5, the village denied the appeal - so News 12's attorneys sent a letter citing case law and urging them to produce the documents.
The village did not respond.
It also failed to comply with New York's FOIA law that requires them to notify the state Committee on Open Government of the appeal.
News 12's Tara Rosenblum went back to Village Hall this week to find out why.
We are still waiting, although several sources have told News 12 that village fire inspections haven’t been done at Evergreen in several years.
The Turn To Tara team has been documenting problems in the area going back a decade. Shortly after one of our investigations back in 2016, the state assigned a monitor to oversee the Building Department’s inspection process - with little result, according to Gordon Wren, Rockland’s former director of the Office of Fire and Emergency Services.
Wren says he is hoping this latest tragedy will serve as an urgent call to action for state and local leaders.
"We're playing Russian roulette with lives of firefighters and occupants, especially the little kids that live there. It's out of control," says Wren.
Back at Village Hall, there is a rush to defend Mayor Alan Simon and his code enforcers.
News 12's Tara Rosenblum asked Village Hall again when she could set up an appointment. It's been a week and she is still waiting.