Love Triangle Fueled Deadly Bronx Fire that Killed Two

NY Daily News - June 12, 2018

by ROCCO PARASCANDOLA, MOLLY CRANE-NEWMAN, GRAHAM RAYMAN and BRITTANY GLEAN-GIBSON

A Bronx man who had to jump out a two-story window to escape a deadly fire called the man who started the blaze a “monster.”

Abakar Assad, 50, called Mara LaMinn, 44, an “animal, not a person” for allegedly pouring lighter flight on his ex-girlfriend, Berta Booker, 49 and setting her alight in a Belmont apartment Saturday afternoon.

Booker and LaMinn both died in the ensuing fire. “I feel so bad. Trust me, it’s stressful,” Assad told the Daily News. “Depression. It goes through my mind. I can’t believe. I can’t sleep. I really need help.”

He said the fire left him with no place to live and no cash. Assad recalled hearing LaMinn banging on the door of the apartment about 1 p.m. Booker reluctantly let in LaMinn while Assad said he peeked out of his bedroom window to see what was going on. Within minutes, Assad said, a violent argument broke out between Booker and LaMinn. Assad said he saw Minn attack Booker — and then flames erupted.

“He jumped on her,” Assad said. “I saw the fire and jumped out the window.”

Assad fell about 20 feet to the ground.

“I broke my feet,” he said. “I jumped from the second floor. It’s not easy.”

He could hear Booker’s cries and screams as the flames engulfed her.

He called 911 and dragged himself to a neighbor’s staircase.

“I (couldn’t) stand up because of my feet,” he said.

Police sources suggested that Assad was romantically involved with Booker, but he said that was not the case. They were just roommates, he said.

Both LaMinn and Booker died at St. Barnabas Hospital.

It is not clear whether LaMinn intentionally set himself on fire or simply couldn’t escape the fast-moving blaze.

Assad said Booker broke it off with LaMinn on Thursday.

“I don’t want you, you’ve done too much damage to me,” Assad quoted her as telling him. “She said, ‘Give me my key.’ He gave her the key — he took his stuff and he left.”

Assad broke into tears, as he described what Booker told her killer. “‘You’re too much,’ she told him. ‘I try to help you, but you won’t help yourself.’ I don’t know how he did that, why he killed this woman,” he said.

Assad said their relationship was toxic.

“He’s not good. He’s not a good person,” he said. “She has a daughter who lives in Spain, she told me, ‘I don’t like this guy ... there’s always drama.’ He’s aggressive. He’s very, very jealous.”

Booker left behind two adult children, a 20-year-old daughter and a 26-year-old son, her sister-in-law said. She would regularly send money back to family members in the Dominican Republic, where she was born.

“It’s very sad,” Assad said. “She is very nice. Very, very nice woman.”

LaMinn once boasted of setting another girlfriend on fire, according to his current roommate, who asked that his name not be used.

“Before all of this, he said he had a girlfriend, his baby’s mother or something, and he said he was gonna set her on fire if she was to have his baby because of something about child support,” he said.

“He was gonna take the lighter fluid and set her on fire. I think he tried it and she left and she never came back.”

The roommate said LaMinn once attacked him and left him with scratches and a small scar under his left eye.

“He ran into my room and attacked me and then he went and got a hammer to attack me,” he said.

The police were called and they took LaMinn away after that incident, but he was released in short order, the roommate said.

After that incident, the roommate spoke with Booker about LaMinn’s behavior.

“She told me, ‘He’s crazy. Something’s wrong with him. He has a lot of demons. Like he’s bipolar. He’s does things like that [attack people],’” he said. “And I said, ‘You need to stay away from him because if he’s like that something is going to happen to you.’ She’s like, ‘Yeah I know I’m trying to get away from him.’”

A friend of LaMinn, who asked for anonymity, said he was with his buddy when LaMinn stopped at a store and bought a lighter shortly before the fire on Saturday.

LaMinn then decided to visit Booker and drop off his laundry, the friend said.

“Usually he does this and it takes him about a minute to come back downstairs,” the friend said. “But it was like 15 minutes, so I thought, ‘Oh, they’re arguing again.’”

The friend said he heard yelling and before he knew it, the charred bodies of LaMinn and Booker were being brought out on stretchers.

“All of a sudden they were bringing them out on the stretchers and he was black, as black as my shirt,” he said. “All his face, his chest, his arms and hands were burnt to a crisp.”