Brooklyn Man Is Killed in a Fast-Moving Fire

NY Times - December 26, 2007

by KAREEM FAHIM and NATE SCHWEBER

A 56-year-old man who neighbors said had been a heavy smoker died in a fire at his apartment in Brooklyn that might have been started by a lighted cigarette, the authorities said.

The man, whom neighbors identified as Harvey Kudisch, was dead when firefighters arrived early Tuesday at his apartment, on East 51st Street in the Flatlands neighborhood, a spokesman for the Fire Department said. The one-alarm fire was called in shortly before 8 a.m. and was under control by about 8:10, according to the Fire Department.

Mr. Kudisch lived alone and for the most part kept to himself, neighbors and friends said. His wife, Joy Kudisch, died in 2002, and his two children live out West, they said.

Mr. Kudisch, who had managed a Duane Reade and a Sam Goody store, lived on disability payments after a recent operation to remove one of his lungs, according to a friend, who would give only his first name, Larry.

Mr. Kudisch was often seen in his trademark dungarees and plain shirts, sitting in front of his building and smoking a cigarette.

In 2003, he and his son, Shane Kudisch, were in the newspapers after they told the police that they had returned after a weekend away and found that their apartment in Brooklyn had been vandalized by burglars, who had burned a swastika into the ceiling and had written anti-Semitic slogans on the walls.

Harvey Kudisch told the police then that several items had been stolen, including two television sets, a computer and his wife's Barbie doll collection.

Shane, now 20, later joined the Army, Mr. Kudisch's friend said, adding that Shane had recently returned from service in Iraq. According to Shane's MySpace page, he recently married and now lives in Las Vegas.

His father later moved from that apartment across the street to the third-floor studio near Avenue I that the fire gutted on Tuesday.

A neighbor who lived below him, Bernard Sakely, 54, said Mr. Kudisch had been an insomniac whose heavy steps paced back and forth during the night. Sometimes it sounded like Mr. Kudisch was moving furniture, he said.

A few times, Mr. Kudisch left the bathtub tap on and flooded his own apartment, Mr. Sakely said, adding that the last flooding was three weeks ago.

"My ceiling is still leaking," Mr. Sakely said. "He was careless, I guess."

Mr. Kudisch's other child, a daughter, recently had a baby, his friend Larry said. He had never spoken much about the vandalizing of his apartment, which the police had called a bias crime.

"He was a nice guy," his friend said. "He really hadn't been happy in a while."