NY Post - December 24, 2006


A hardworking mom about to move her young family out of Brooklyn died in a holiday horror early yesterday after her 2-year-old son, playing with matches, set off a fire in their apartment.

Sandra Stephens, 40, a clinic phlebotomist born in Kingston, Jamaica, was killed, and five other people were injured in the cramped unit shared by two families.

The victims included Stephens' toddler son, Kyle, who was badly burned after starting the blaze, and her 14-year-old son, Kimali, who clambered out a window and fell three stories, breaking an ankle.

"Do or die, or die trying," his cousin quoted Kimali as saying of his daring escape.

The fire on the top floor of the six-story building on Albemarle Road in Flatbush erupted just before midnight Friday when Kyle dropped a match onto a mattress. Sources said the tot had been known to play with matches.

A frantic Stephens tried to drag the mattress out into the hallway - inadvertently fueling an explosion of flames that blocked her exit.

Neighbors and FDNY officials described a nightmarish scene as firefighters fought through a hysterical crowd of 200 people rushing out of the building, then struggled to reach those trapped by the flames and the acrid, black smoke.

"When we got there, the fire was right at the door," said FDNY Lt. Gerard Curran.

He added that Lt. Danny Bowman shouted, "I'm going to go for life!" - abandoning his wait for a hose and starting for the top floor.

"Bowman heard someone cry for help. She was trying to say, 'I'm back here!' " Curran said.

Sandra and Kyle were found in a bedroom. Another mother of two, who shared the rent with Stephens, was found in a bedroom with her son, 12. Their names had not been released as of last night.

Stephens' 8-year-old daughter, Kayann, and the second woman's daughter, 9, managed to run out to safety. The second woman's boyfriend also made it out with just minor injuries. He was the one who told firefighters that some people were still trapped in apartment D62.

Stephens was pronounced dead at New York-Presbyterian Hospital's burn center.

Kayann's father, George Reynolds, came from Pennsylvania yesterday to give his little girl a present - only to meet with tragedy.

"She's a very good mother to my daughter," he said of Stephens. "I'm still shaking."

Kimali remained hospitalized last night, awaiting possible surgery at Brooklyn's Maimonides Hospital. Kyle was in Staten Island University Hospital's burn unit. The other mom and her son were in Jacobi Hospital's burn unit in The Bronx.

Yesterday was supposed to have been moving-out day for the Stephens family, which had been planning to relocate to Baltimore.

"Given the holidays, to go through a tragedy like this . . . it's difficult to deal with," said Stephens' brother, Christopher Reid, of Washington, D.C.

"We're a strong family, and we're hoping, [but] we need all your prayers and support."