Cruel Fate in Fatal Bx. Fire

NY Post - November 29, 2010

by PERRY CHIARAMONTE

In a tragic twist of fate, a beloved barber afraid of dying in a fire was killed in a raging inferno that ravaged his Bronx apartment building over the weekend.

The charred body of Juan Marte, 46, was found in a stairwell of the five-story building at 131 E. 169th St. in Mount Eden, where the suspicious blaze broke out in the lobby at 10 p.m. Saturday.

Witnesses reported seeing several teenagers lighting pieces of paper before the blaze, sources said.

Marte "had said he never wanted to die in a fire," said Ernesto Batista, 28, a barber at the High Class Barbershop on Grand Concourse near East 170th Street, where Marte worked.

"We [talked] about it after watching a story on the news. He didn't want to be burned."

The fire's flames had forced at least two children to jump from windows to safety.

"I don't understand how [Marte] couldn't get out," said Dinorah Gonzalez, 46, who lived on the fourth floor along with the victim, his wife and two daughters. "I think he was trying to help people get out of the building."

Investigators found several bags of marijuana and grow lamps in the basement, a source said. The blaze remains under investigation by fire marshals.

Additional reporting by John Doyle and Doug Auer