Does everyone agree that the ruling by Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens this week that last year’s deadly fire at the Marshall Square retirement community was “accidental” is pretty much meaningless?
Obviously, no one intentionally set fire to the billiard room on the third floor of the retirement community in the early morning hours of June 2.
Everyone in the Augusta area already knew that was the case on June 2.
But, for some reason, it took the state’s insurance and safety fire commissioner almost 10 months to figure that out.
What can we say? That’s Georgia politics for you.
But someone still needs to answer and take responsibility for the fact that 91-year-old Dorothy Carpenter tragically lost her life in the fire and 82-year-old Rhetta Cadle miraculously survived after being trapped in her third-floor apartment for almost seven hours.
Enter Augusta attorneys Jack Long, Sam Nicholson and Harry Revell, who are determined to hold someone accountable.
These attorneys, who are representing former residents of Marshall Square, are calling for District Attorney Ashley Wright to open a criminal investigation for negligence regarding this fatal fire.
“After reviewing the circumstances surrounding this case, we believe it’s just grossly negligent,” Nicholson said.
Over the past several months, Nicholson, Long and Revell have thoroughly reviewed the sequence of events that occurred in the early morning hours of June 2.
As the fire began to intensify and rapidly spread behind the walls of the third-floor billiard room in the Marshall Square retirement community around 3 a.m., a “deadly sequence of events” occurred, according to Nicholson, a senior partner in the law firm of Nicholson Revell LLP.
First, the fire alarm was manually silenced multiple times during the first 30 minutes of the fire that began just minutes after 3 a.m.
Next, residents who were concerned about a potential danger in the building were instructed by the property manager, Chris Bryde, to remain in their rooms because Marshall Square had a “state-of-the-art” fire and monitoring system.
Then, the staff waited more than 15 minutes after the initial fire alarm sounded to call 9-1-1.
Once Columbia County Fire Rescue arrived on the scene around 3:30 a.m., the sprinklers inside Marshall Square were also manually shut off by Bryde inside the building.
It was a perfect storm, Nicholson said.
“The staff waited all that time, like 17 minutes, before they even called the fire department,” said Nicholson, whose law firm is representing both Cadle and the Carpenter family. “I think the fire safety standards say you are supposed to call within the first three minutes. But they just thought there wasn’t anything happening, so somebody kept turning off the fire alarm. It’s just terrible.”
Nicholson has also conducted an inspection of the packaged terminal air conditioner, often referred to as PTAC, that was located in Marshall Square’s billiard room.
PTAC is a self-contained heating and air conditioning system commonly found in hotels, motels, senior housing facilities, hospitals, condominiums and apartment buildings.
In August 2014, a number of PTAC units by Goodman were recalled.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the power cords on some of the company’s air conditioning and heating units have the “potential to overheat, posing burn and fire hazards.”
Then, to add more fuel to the fire, Nicholson said the Nebraska-based company, Resort Lifestyle Communities, which owned Marshall Square, failed to follow state and national code guidelines for fire and evacuation safety plans.
Georgia regulations clearly state that structures with three or more stories and that occupy three or more families are required by law to have an evacuation plan posted, similar to the signs posted on the doors of hotels and dormitories.
However, Marshall Square did not follow those state regulations.
Now, everyone knows that Nicholson, Long, Revell and several other local and regional attorneys will address the civil matters in this case, but it is time to talk criminal negligence.
Columbia County and the district attorney need to take a hard stand against local companies who don’t take state and national safety regulations seriously.
So, Ashley Wright, it’s your turn.
Take this case seriously.
Prosecute those that need to be prosecuted in the Marshall Square case.
It is literally a case of life or death.