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Property Owner to Face Charges for Fire in Converted Barn That Killed Family PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 03:04

A. Garcia / SFVS

The Estrada family perished in a fire in Sylmar earlier this year. The City Prosecutor has filed charges against the owner of the property where the family lived.

On Tuesday, July 2, the owner of a converted barn in Sylmar that caught fire and killed an entire family is expected to be arraigned on a series of misdemeanor charges, including failure to install smoke alarms in the building.

Leonarda Duenez Aguilar is charged with six criminal counts including: failure to install smoke detectors, illegal use of land, illegal construction, lack of electrical permits, lack of plumbing permits, and failure to comply with orders from the Los Angeles City Department of Building and Safety. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Duenez Aguilar is the owner of a barn-like structure on the 13800 block of Eldrige Avenue in Sylmar, part of which was being legally used as living quarters for a family of four, according to City Attorney Mike Feuer.

The living space was allegedly altered by the property owner to illegally add a bathroom as well as a non-permit kitchen. Inspectors reported there were no smoke detectors on the ceilings or walls in any of the rooms that were used for sleeping, or in any areas giving access to those rooms. Inspectors also stated that unapproved electrical wiring had been installed in a large building illegally constructed at the location.

Duenez Aguilar’s arraignment is scheduled in Department 101 of the Van Nuys Courthouse. Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek is prosecuting the case.

On January 13, at approximately 4:30 a.m., a fire claimed the life of four members of the Estrada family who had recently moved into the barn-like, two-story structure located in the Duenez Aguilar property.

The victims were Uriel (who perished on his 42nd birthday); his wife Maria, 40, and their children Isabel, 12, and Alejandro, 8. They were both students at Santa Rosa Catholic School, where hundreds of friends, family members and school classmates met in late January to say a final farewell to the family.

Firefighters found Uriel a few feet from the front door; Maria and the children were found huddled together near Uriel. Investigators believe the fire started in the home's livingdining area, next to where the 12-year-old was sleeping on the first floor.

Arson investigators have maintained there were no active working smoke detectors in the residence. However, Brian Weinberger, the property owner’s lawyer, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that he had been advised through his client, as well as the person in charge of maintaining the property, whom he did not identify, that “there were indeed two brand new smoke alarms provided for that area of living quarters” where the Estradas lived.

According to the Los Angeles Times, property records indicate the owner was authorized to convert the barn into living space. But the property’s permits do not allow for it to include a kitchen or be used as permanent residential housing for longer than 30 days, Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini, told the paper. According to descriptions by fire officials, the home included a kitchen area with a stove, refrigerator and sink.

The Estrada family fatalities were the first of 14 fire-related deaths in the City of Los Angeles this year, more than triple the four such deaths registered last year. Many were due to a lack of working smoke detectors in the structures where those deaths occurred.

The current string of firerelated deaths has prompted the LAFD and Los Angeles City officials to begin a campaign to distribute smoke detectors in nearby residences, whenever one of these tragedies takes place.