One Dead and Three Hurt in Queens Apartment Fire

NY Times - October 19, 2009


A fire in a Queens apartment building early Sunday left a 44-year-old woman dead and three others critically injured, the authorities said.

The two-alarm blaze began shortly after 3 a.m. in Apartment 5A at the Pomonok Houses, a public housing complex on 71st Avenue in Flushing. It tore through the apartment, but the cement and steel walls stopped it from spreading.

When the flames abated, firefighters found four people inside: Bianca Kuros, 44, who was later pronounced dead at the Queens Medical Center, along with her 16-year-old daughter, a 52-year-old man and a 50-year-old man, who were all listed in critical but stable condition. Officials did not release the names of those injured, and it was unclear whether they were related to Ms. Kuros. Four of the 110 firefighters at the scene suffered minor injuries.

Authorities called the fire suspicious, but would not elaborate, saying only that an investigation was continuing.

Ms. Kuros, who used to be a construction-safety inspector, filed a $20 million sexual harassment lawsuit in July against JPMorgan Chase and her employer, Total Safety Consulting, and others after she complained that she had been subjected to lewd comments and aggressive behavior on the job. (She filed the lawsuit using her maiden name, Bianca Wisniewski.) According to the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Ms. Kuros said that an elevator operator, Steve Greco, propositioned and groped her at a bank construction site on Park Avenue. In response to her complaints, she said, she was replaced by a man.

"It's hard for a woman to get into that line of work," her lawyer, Steven L. Wittels, said. "She was a young woman who accomplished a lot, breaking through into the male-dominated construction industry. It's a tragedy for her to lose her life in this way."

Rickey Burrus, 45, a contractor who lives in Apartment 4A — directly below the apartment where the fire broke out — said he awoke shortly after 3 a.m. As he stood in his kitchen, he smelled smoke, and the heat from the fire caused a picture frame to drop from the wall. He ran upstairs to check on his neighbors.

"I banged that door, but they had already passed out," he said. He left the building and saw fire engines heading the wrong way, so he directed them toward the apartment, he said.

Mr. Burrus, whose wife, Davida, used to baby-sit for Ms. Kuros, said she lived with her daughters, whom he identified as Olivia, the 16-year-old who was injured, and Nicole, 18. They said Ms. Kuros was a Polish immigrant who moved into the apartment a decade ago.

Ms. Kuros's death was one of several in New York City over the weekend, an unusually morbid few days in a city where crime rates have fallen sharply in recent years. Murders, which peaked at 2,200 in 1990, are on track for a record low year, despite dwindling public safety resources and increasing rates of violence in other big cities.

But on Saturday shortly before 11 p.m. in the Bronx, Joseph Rosado, 37, was fatally shot in the head while sitting in a car outside his home on East 165th Street. The police have made no arrests.

At 1 a.m. on Sunday on Staten Island, the police received a call about what appeared to be a homicide: a body, mangled by the brunt of an abandoned S.U.V. nearby, apparently left for dead.

But the authorities determined that the man, Oleg Kantarovich, 47, had intended to pull out of a parking space in front of a cafe, but instead stepped on the gas and slammed into a tree. His body was thrown from the S.U.V.

An hour later in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the police found two men on the street: Jarrett Travis, 18, with a gunshot wound to his chest, and a 42-year-old man with a stab wound to his torso. Mr. Travis was pronounced dead at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, where the other man was in stable condition. No arrests were made.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, police were summoned to the scene of a knife fight involving a 25-year-old man and a 24-year-old man. They found both had been slashed across the throat by a man who the authorities believe fled. The 25-year-old was pronounced dead a half-hour later at Kings County Hospital Center, where the 24-year-old was in stable condition.

Derrick Henry and Karen Zraick contributed reporting.