Mother of Three Killed in Raging Coney Island Apartment Fire

NY Daily News - January 01, 2011

by Henrick Karoliszyn and Jonathan Lemire

A fast-moving fire tore through an apartment near the top of a Brooklyn high-rise early Friday, killing a mother of three, officials and neighbors said.

Shari Pasternak, 50, was trapped in her 22nd-floor Coney Island apartment when the fire broke out just before 7:30 a.m., officials said.

The superintendent of her Neptune Ave. building saw the smoke spilling from Pasternak's apartment and climbed in through an adjoining terrace in a desperate attempt to save her.

"I went in [and] as soon as I opened the terrace door to the apartment the smoke was so brown," said Gilbert Martinez, 56.

"It hit me like nothing I'd ever seen before," said a shaken Martinez. "She must have been going through hell."

Martinez saw Pasternak in her charred bedroom but was forced to back out before he was overcome by the smoke.

Firefighters arrived minutes later and pulled Pasternak from the choking smoke. She was rushed to Coney Island Hospital but died a short time later.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known but the blaze did not appear to be intentionally set, FDNY investigators said. Fire marshals believe it started in Pasternak's bedroom, which was completely blackened by the flames.

Neighbors said Pasternak lived alone but received frequent visits from her two adult daughters.

Though she was depressed after the death of her son from kidney disease, she always had a kind word for others in the building, her friends said.

"She was a good person, very hard working, loved her family," said Sol Cooperman, 65. "This is a tragedy."

No one else was injured in the fire, which was extinguished in about 45 minutes, according to the FDNY.