|Article Last Updated: 12/21/2005 04:35 AM|
|Survivor of fire testifies|
|Landlord's lawyer questions man about fatal blaze|
|DANIEL TEPFER email@example.com|
|BRIDGEPORT — Tears welled up in Rinh Thach's eyes as he talked about his wife and three young children who died in a fire in their Iranistan Avenue home in June.|
Called to the witness stand in Superior Court to support his lawyer's request to secure his former landlord's financial holdings, Thach seemed small as he sat, hunched over.
His face still red and raw from the burns he received in the fire, Thach appeared overwhelmed by his surroundings. "My wife and children, they died in the fire," he said haltingly, his words translated by an interpreter.
Thirty-five-year-old Thi Luong Thach and their son, Hoang Anh Thach, 14; daughter Thi My Trinh Thach, 11; and 3-year-old Daisey Thach were killed when a fire broke out in their second-floor apartment on June 13.
Rinh Thach, 37, survived, but was severely burned.
Thach's lawyer, John LaCava, said they intend to sue the owner of the house and the city for the deaths of his family members.
The owner of the house, Hai Pham, 37, of Iranistan Avenue, has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court to four counts of negligent homicide and four counts of violations of the state fire code.
After the hearing, Judge Arthur Hiller ordered a $1 million attachment against Pham's property and holdings.
Rinh Thach testified there were no smoke detectors in the apartment.
Under cross-examination, Pham's lawyer, Michael Dugan, asked Thach why he didn't complain when he saw the apartment had no smoke detectors.
"I just came to the United States and didn't know anything," he said. At times he appeared bewildered and didn't seem to understand what Dugan was asking him.
Asked how the fire started he replied, "When we were asleep there was smoke I got my wife but I couldn't get my children."
When Dugan suggested that the use of the stove in the kitchen caused the fire, Thach said they had gone out to dinner the night before the fire. Dugan indicated that perhaps there had been a problem with the stove, but Thach said, "I didn't see anything happen with the gas stove."
The fire broke out shortly after 4 a.m. in the kitchen of the Thachs' second-floor apartment at 1647-1649 Iranistan Ave.
Police and fire investigators, said the Thachs awoke in their rear bedroom to the smell of smoke.
Confronted by a wall of thick smoke as they entered the kitchen, they escaped out the back door and down the stairs. Once outside, Rinh Thach ran around to the Iranistan Avenue side of the building to get back into his apartment through the front, where his children were asleep in their rooms.
Meanwhile, his wife, braving thick smoke and flames, ran back in through the rear door.
Investigators said the husband was unable to get in the front door because it was locked so he raced around to the rear. As he climbed the back stairs, he collided with Jackie Gonzalez, 28, who was desperately fleeing her third-floor apartment with her three young children. Gonzalez convinced Thach it was too dangerous to go back to his apartment, and in a panic he ran back toward the front of the building and collapsed on the sidewalk.
Firefighters tried to reach his wife, only to be forced back when the third floor collapsed into the second-floor kitchen.
The wife's badly charred body was found on her bedroom floor. In a second bedroom, firefighters found the Thachs' older daughter dead in her bed. The 3-year-old, who was in the same bedroom, was found lying outside her crib.
In the front bedroom, their son was found on the floor next to his bed.
According to the autopsy, the victims died from smoke inhalation.
Earlier in the hearing, Joseph Toscano, a New Jersey arson investigator, testified that had there been smoke detectors in the Thachs' apartment they would have been warned of the fire early enough to get out safely.