Foil: Your right to Know.
“Sabrail Davenport’s heart ached when she learned a judge dismissed charges against a former village building department official resulting from the investigation into the fire in which her firefighter son died.
Davenport fears no one will be held responsible for the deaths of her son Jared Lloyd, 35, and adult home resident Oliver Huested, 79.
So far, Wayne Ballard’s dismissals fold in with charges earlier being dropped against two adult home workers charged in the investigation of the March 22, 2021, inferno at the Evergreen Court Home for Adults on Lafayette Street. Two remaining cases related to the Evergreen Court investigation include charges against former inspector Ray Canario and Rabbi Nathaniel Sommer and his son Aaron, who faces felony counts including manslaughter related to causing the fire and deaths. They’ve pleaded not guilty, and their next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 14.
Firemen on the scene of the Evergreen fire Photo Peter Carr / The Journal News
While Davenport said she understands Ballard and Canario, a former fire chief, didn’t have a role in causing the fire, her confidence in Rockland District Attorney Thomas Walsh has lessened. Walsh, when announcing the six arrests after the 2021 blaze, promised there would be justice for Lloyd and Huested and jail for the guilty. “I am disappointed,” the still-grieving mother said Friday. “I am concerned that this case is setting me up for major disappointments with the upcoming trials. I pray not. Somebody should go to jail for Jared’s death.”
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Davenport said the prosecution should have had a stronger case before bringing the charges before a grand jury.
“Why bring them if they had nothing to do with the fire?” she said. “They should have had a stronger case with more evidence if they were going ahead. Where’s the criminality in their case?”
Firefighters concerned about prosecutions
Other firefighters and advocates for stricter fire and safety code enforcement were also concerned.
Judge Kevin Russo, after hearing testimony, dismissed two charges against Ballard on Thursday. Russo found two of Walsh’s prosecutors failed to prove Ballard knowingly provided false information in a state report on the village Building Department’s inspections and had any intent to defraud the New York State Department of State in the report.
A grand jury had charged Ballard with offering a false instrument for filing in the first and second degrees. Russo dismissed the grand jury’s third count of second-degree falsifying a business record.Walsh’s Chief of Detectives Peter Walker responded: “We are saddened and disappointed by Judge Russo’s decision. The people believe that sufficient evidence was presented to establish the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Walsh is up for re-election in November. A former judge, Walsh won a four-year term in 2019 on the Republican and Democratic ballots lines.
Firefighter George Cich, whose firefighter-son was seriously injured in the Evergreen Court fire, said Friday that he expects similar court results for Canario, who also is charged with filing false paperwork. Canario also is charged with filing false information for using an old address on an employment application with the Rockland Personnel Department. Cich, a leader of the Rockland Illegal Housing Task Force, said the District Attorney’s Office brought the paperwork cases after Spring Valley police didn’t find enough evidence to show wrongdoing by Ballard and Canario.
Cich said Davenport and firefighters are waiting to see what happens with the Sommers and if the case goes to trial or if there’s a plea agreement. He noted Walsh said someone will have to go to jail for the fatalities.
“We have to see which way the upcoming cases go,” Cich said. “This (Ballard’s case and Canario’s) was all about paperwork. This had nothing to do with the fire. I expect that case against Ray to be dismissed as well. We will see how this all plays out.”
Gordon Wren Jr., a Hillcrest firefighter, former Ramapo building inspector, and former Rockland Fire and Emergency Services coordinator, said the Ballard dismissal was discouraging. He had worked with investigators during the early stages of the multi-agency investigation.
Wren said many people have concerns that no one will be held accountable for the two deaths. Wren has been critical of the lack of inspections, enforcement of codes, and major court fines for violators to discourage violations.
“I think the prosecutors were doing their best,” Wren said. “The judge made his decision based on the evidence presented. It didn’t work out. I feel really bad for Jared’s mother, a woman of courage.”
Justin Schwartz, a housing task force member, was critical of Walsh, asking, “Where is the justice for Jared Lloyd?” “Most of the key players in the double-fatal Evergreen fire are walking,” Schwartz said. “Walsh never had a case. He promised justice. He carries a big stick, over-promises, over indicts and he comes up empty.”
Read the complete Journal News coverage here.