Family of Late Hartford Firefighter File Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Hartford fighter Kevin Bell didn't have to die.

Hartford fighter Kevin Bell didn’t have to die.

 

The Law Offices of Paul Levin

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

FAMILY OF LATE HARTFORD FIREFIGHTER KEVIN BELL FILE WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT AGAINST THE CITY OF HARTFORD ON BEHALF OF HIS ESTATE. FIRE CHIEF, DEPUTY CHIEF AND LIEUTENANT ARE NAMED IN THE CIVIL LAWSUIT.

Hartford, CT: Family members of late Hartford firefighter Kevin Bell filed a wrongful death lawsuit, on behalf of his estate, against the City of Hartford regarding Bell’s death while fighting a house fire last year on October 7, 2014.

“Eight minutes and three seconds,” said Shawn Bell, Kevin Bell’s brother and administrator of his estate. “That’s how long it took the scene commander to dispatch a rescue team into the burning building and locate my brother. Eight minutes and three seconds after that muffled mayday call was transmitted and yet, it took only twenty seconds to find him. My brother was left behind and by the time they went back to get him, it was too late. If they had gone in sooner, I am certain my brother would still be with us today. ”

Bell, a firefighter with Engine Company 16, was 48 years old when he was killed fighting a house fire at 598 Blue Hills Avenue. Bell died from asphyxia when his tank ran out of air, leading to cardiac arrest.

“My husband didn’t have to die,” said his widow, Wayatte Statham-Bell. “Knowing what I know now, my husband should be living the life he loved so much. Every single day without him is really hard. Perhaps, the most heartbreaking, is the fact that he will never get the chance see his first grandchild being born. In January, our daughter is going to have a baby boy. How he would have loved to see this day.”

Hartford attorney Paul Levin of Hartford, co-counsel for the family representing Kevin Bell’s estate along with attorney Jeffrey Ment, said it was an unconscionable decision to order a firefighter into a burning building with faulty gear and then pairing him with a lieutenant, who didn’t have it drilled into his head, that you don’t leave the building without your partner. Levin also said the scene commander inexplicably failed to respond to a mayday call and apparently withheld the order for the special rescue team to immediately go in the building and rescue Bell.

“The fact remains that Kevin Bell should not have been sent in under these conditions but once inside the building, with his whereabouts unaccounted for after the building evacuation order had been issued, they should have sent in the rescue team right away,” Levin said. “The fact remains that Kevin Bell should have come home that day. The city’s fire department, and those responsible for the decisions made, need to be held accountable. They knew firefighters were being sent into harms way with defective and ill maintained equipment. They knew there was a severe lack of live fire conditions and tactics fighter training. They knew that the incident commander lacked command and control experience. They knew all of this, and yet, they ordered Kevin Bell into a burning building.”

The 14-count lawsuit includes four wrongful death counts against:

  1. The City of Hartford, for intentionally tolerating dangerous conditions substantially certain to cause injury. The suit cites defective, ill maintained Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA/air packs), including sub-standard functioning secondary low oxygen alarm and ill-fitting face masks, issues which had been long ignored and brought once again, directly to the attention of the chief days prior to the fatal fire.
  1. Hartford Fire Chief Carlos Huertas, for among other things, knowing there were equipment, training, command and crew integrity and related management problems and not addressing them.
  1. Deputy Chief James McLaughlin—the scene commander who had not received the required live fire training and tactics instructions which led to serious command errors, chaotic behavior and decision making at the scene. The suit also states McLaughlin made a conscious and deliberate decision to delay sending in the tactical team to save Bell from the fire though members of the team were pleading to be allowed into the building.
  1. Lieutenant John Moree—the firefighter who was sent into the burning building with Bell but then, left him behind. Lt. Moree made a muffled mayday call which either went ignored or unheard, but then failed to immediately alert nearby firefighters when he left the house fire that Bell was still missing inside. Kevin Bell had complained to family members and other firefighters not long before the October 7th fire, that Lt. Moree had abandoned him in another fire where they had been paired together on a fire hose line.

An investigation done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found Bell’s air pack failed the Remaining Service Life Indicator Test—the secondary alarm bell failed to operate within parameters.

 An internal investigation, done by Hartford Fire Department’s Board Of Inquiry, also found a lack of training, poor radio communication, lack of crew integrity in regards to working in teams of at least two, failure to perform a proper search of the room for missing firefighters and not requesting additional resources to search the room in a timely manner.

The suit also includes defamation and related counts for statements made by Hartford fire department members which the chief, and others privy to the toxicology and medical examiner’s preliminary report, knew to be false, and harmful to Bell’s reputation.

“And this is why we are here today,” said Shawn Bell. “We want justice. We want every, single, last person who should be held accountable in Kevin’s death—to be held accountable.”

 

 

 

My client Kim Smith’s statement to the press about Hammonasset peeping incident.

Attorney Paul Levin with client Kim Smith

Taking questions from the press about the peeping incident at Hammonasset State Park

Taking questions from the press about the peeping incident at Hammonasset State Park

Kim Smith Statement:

I am Kim Smith. I am here today to tell my story, to break my silence, and tell the people of Connecticut what happened to me and my two young daughters while showering at Hammonasset State Park.

I am here now, three years after two park employees watched me shower with my two young daughters, because I can no longer be silent. My daughters and I were violated and victims of a crime. I was too embarrassed and humiliated to come forward and speak publicly about this at the time this happened. I did not want to expose myself or my children in the public eye because I wanted to protect them from this. But now, in light of recent developments at the park and the depositions I have read, I can no longer be quiet. The people of Connecticut need to know, when showering at a state park, proceed with caution.

On July 5, 2014, a camera was found inside the bathhouse at the campground at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental protection called this an isolated incident. This is what outrages me!

I am here today to tell you that is not an isolated incident. Just a fews weeks before this latest privacy breach at Hammonasset, my attorneys were deposing park managers. One testified under oath that no policies are in place to address privacy issues, peeping incidents and voyeurism at the state parks. I believe park managers lacked accountability and responsibility for what happened to me and things are still happening on their watch!

The park supervisor at the time, William Mattioli, testified that to his “knowledge” there have not been any policy changes or overall employee training at state parks in Connecticut regarding peeping incidents, how to better protect people at parks from voyeurism, and other privacy issues. You can find this testimony on page 94. We are releasing the transcript in its entirety. Also, on page 36 of his deposition, Mr. Mattioli testified that he doesn’t “specifically go looking for cameras” but he if “happened to see one,” he would “address it.”

I was hoping that since my incident three years ago also at a campground bathhouse at Hammonasset, that there would have been major policy changes at state parks, like limiting who has access to bathroom facilities and installing a security system to more closely monitor employees with access to bathhouses and bathrooms. I was hoping this would be the case. I learned during my fact-finding mission, I was wrong, and with this latest privacy breach, I see it is still happening today!

Here is what happened to me.

July 23, 2011, as I mentioned, we were camping at Hammonasset State Park. It was a hot day and my daughters and I just returned from the beach. I took them to shower at the bathhouse near our campsite–building number 3.

I got the girls into the stall, undressed them and myself and we started to shower. While we were showering, I noticed something strange through a hole at the shower faucet. There were shadows and movement and I noticed a light on that I did not notice when we started. I moved closer to look through the hole and that’s when I saw the outline of his face, his eyes staring back at me and his facial hair.

My heart sank and my stomach dropped to my toes. I quickly wrapped the girls in towels and we got out of there. I was shaking, mad, scared, humiliated, and of course, worried about my two young daughters who were three and six years-old at the time. I was trying to get out of the shower area to get our clothes on and came face to face with the man with the facial hair as he was coming out of the storage area that it is connected to the women’s bathroom. He was not alone. He was with another coworker. I was scared. I tried to rush us all into the bathroom stall to put our clothes on and then noticed the big hole around the toilet in the stall, my heart sank again. People need to know that there is a pipe chase behind the bathrooms and showers. This is where the employees gained access, through their storage facilities, to watch us shower though the holes that were allowed to be present for over a decade. To this day, this pipe chase area is not blocked off.

I wondered who would do such a thing? Watch women and children shower while undressed.

As I mentioned, it wasn’t just one man watching us but two–Ken Sabo and Brandon Marchant. The men actually worked for the park, that’s right, state employees who later confessed to the crime–and cut a plea deal with prosecutors. They were fired from their jobs, which is a start, but I believe park managers should have and could have done more to prevent this. And now, with another privacy breach in the news, I know not enough is being done to protect those in their most vulnerable state.

Sabo and Marchant were originally charged with breach of peace, since a camera wasn’t used. For the past three years, I have tried to pass new legislation that would make it voyeurism if someone peeped at children even if a camera wasn’t used. I have been unsuccessful on that front so far. But I will continue this fight to change the laws until something is done to protect our children. To protect all of us.

I have been trying to fight this quietly, but I can no longer do that anymore.

My case is before the state’s claims commissioner. I am trying to get answers as to how something like this could have happened to me and my daughters by two state employees at a state park. I honestly believe I was not the first person violated at that park. Who knows how many other unsuspecting women and children were watched unknowingly while showering or going to the bathroom.

Prior to leaving the park that awful day, something told me to take a look around. I walked to the bathrooms in our area and was horrified and disgusted to find that our bathhouse was not the only one with so many holes. A photographer by trade, I quickly grabbed my camera to document what I saw. I found many holes, near toilets, in shower stalls, everywhere, too many to count really. This was not an isolated problem. State workers saw these holes for nearly a decade and did nothing to fix them. In fact, one of the men who watched me in the shower claimed that workers knew where to go to watch women shower.

Despite these deplorable conditions which left my daughters and me vulnerable to the peeping incident which happened to us, Mr. Mattioli testified that both the head plumber (and maintenance supervisor) at Hammonasset were not disciplined for leaving all these holes in the women’s facilities. In fact, Mr. Mattioli testified that he doesn’t think the state should be held accountable for the actions of two employees, despite the fact that it was on his watch (and the state facility he managed) that these deplorable conditions were allowed and considered to be status quo.

Thomas Smith, the head of maintenance at the park, also testified that he had no formal training in maintenance. On page 55 of his deposition, Mr. Smith testified he never had any certification, licenses or continuing education provided by the state of Connecticut on how to better manage maintenance issues at state parks, yet, he was the person put in charge.

Since my incident, the holes in the walls have been fixed but this is not enough. It was only because I called police and filed a report that something finally changed.
I want to see new security measures in place like a digital swiping card which would keep track of employees whereabouts and who had access to what building and when. I would also like a door be put on the pipe chase area so that regular workers do not have access there.

What most people don’t realize is community service workers, who have been arrested for various things, also work at the park. Many of them work to clean the bathrooms and have access to maintenance keys to all bathhouses. This does not sit well with me.

After reading those depositions, I decided to release them to the public for no other reason than wanting the public to know. DEEP will probably tell you that I am doing this to further my case. That is the farthest thing from the truth. I am doing this to shed some light on an ongoing problem at state parks and to give people access to what I have learned. I did not want to come forward and publicize what happened to me, I have remained quiet for three years while fighting this fight. But now, with a hidden camera being found at a bathhouse at the same campsite, I see that this is still happening.

It has got to stop!

After reading those depositions of state park workers, I was angry, upset and confused because not one of them was willing to take responsibility for their facilities or their employees. They feel like they have no wrong doing here and they all stand by their word. I find it hard to believe that in the 10 plus years these holes were present and continued to grow, that no camper ever filed a complaint or wrote a comment card about them or that no worker ever mentioned the holes all over the bathrooms (and showers) at Hammonasset.

I want real change and real accountability to protect others. What happened to me is done, but I will use what I know to protect others in the future. To this day, this incident, this violation disturbs me. The moment I am in a situation where I need to use a public restroom, a changing room at the mall, or shower after using a public pool or gym, I remember what happened to me and my children. I panic. I search.

This is always in my mind.

 

 

Hammonasset Peeping Victim Shares Her Story

 

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Attorney Andrew Garza, Kim Smith, Attorney Paul Levin, Attorney Kelly Kasheta with PLKK

Very proud of my client Kim Smith who spoke publicly for the first time today about a peeping incident three years ago at Hammonasset State Park. Kim and her two young daughters were showering undressed when she noticed someone watching her through a hole near the shower nozzle. Two state employees were later arrested for the crime. Kim told me she had to tell her story to the press and the public after the latest privacy breach also at the park. Only July 5, a hidden camera was found inside a bathhouse also at the campground where Kim and her daughters were violated. Kim is pushing for major policy changes to better protect people at state parks. She says what happened to her is not an isolated incident. She was very brave to share her story.

Here is one of the stories that aired on WFSB-TV, channel 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving night car crash leaves one woman dead

A two-car crash in Hartford left one woman dead Thanksgiving night, Connecticut state police reported.

41-year-old Mary White was driving her car on I-84 close to exit 48 in Hartford at around 11:30 p.m. when her car crashed with another vehicle, causing it to go over a concrete median before ending up on Capital Avenue ramp to I-84 West.

Meanwhile, the 31-year-old driver of the other car, Cherri Brooks, and her three children all sustained non-serious injuries.

Our attorneys from the Law Offices of Paul Levin extend their heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones affected by this tragic loss.