BRIDGEPORT — Hai Pham broke into tears Friday as she faced sentencing for her role in the deaths of a mother and three children in a fire last June.

"I'm very sorry for what happened. They were very nice people," she told Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano.

But while the judge said it was clear the 38-year-old Pham had failed to put smoke alarms in the Iranistan Avenue apartment house at which she was the landlord, he concluded she didn't intend to cause the deaths, and gave her a suspended prison sentence.

"The mission of the fire code is to save lives, and it is clear the defendant's failure to abide by the code resulted in the loss of one last chance for the victims to save themselves, and Mrs. Pham is going to have to live with that," he said.

Pham arrived in court with her 4-year-old son, Stephen. The boy began loudly wailing when the judge told Pham to move him to the back of the courtroom. But he quickly quieted when the judge relented, allowing him to sit behind his mother. She pleaded guilty in November to three counts of negligent homicide.

The sentencing came two days after a mother and her young daughter died in a fire in a South End apartment that had no smoke detectors, and Senior Assistant State's Attorney Howard Stein took the opportunity to issue a warning to other landlords.

"We are aware of the significant number of fire deaths of children in this city partly due to the lack of smoke detectors, and it is the intention of the state's attorney's office to vigorously pursue and prosecute landlords who have a statutory duty to safeguard their tenants," he said.

Pham was the owner of the apartment building that caught fire June 13, claiming the lives of Thi Luong Thach, 35; her son, Hoang Anh Thach, 14; daughter Thi My Trinh Thach, 11; and 3-year-old daughter Daisey Thach. Thach's 37-year-old husband, Rinh, was severely burned but survived after an extensive stay at Bridgeport Hospital. Police said the Thaches' second-floor apartment had no smoke detectors and had bars on the windows, blocking escape. Another escape route had been nailed shut. Any of those factors could have meant the difference between life or death for the victims, police said. Rinh Thach recently returned to Vietnam to be with his mother. His brother-in-law, Hung Vo, was in the courtroom with the family's lawyer, John LaCava. LaCava said neither Thach nor Vo has personal animosity toward Pham. He said his clients were satisfied with the way they were treated by the judicial system.

Pham's lawyers, Adrian Rebollo and William Gouveia, told the judge their client had grown up in Vietnam during the war and came to this country with her husband to provide a better life for her family.

"Perhaps her greatest punishment is the guilt she feels for the death of the mother and her children," Rebollo said.

The judge agreed, sentencing Pham to a three-year suspended term, with three years of probation. He ordered Pham to perform 500 hours of community service and to make a $500 contribution to the Burn Care Foundation.

The fire broke out shortly after 4 a.m. in the kitchen of the Thaches' apartment at 1647-1649 Iranistan Ave. According to investigators, the Thach parents awoke in their rear bedroom to the smell of smoke. Both parents ran out of the house, then tried to re-enter to save the children.

However, a neighbor who was fleeing the apartment prevented Rinh Thach from going back inside. The wife and three children were later found inside by firefighters. According to the autopsy report, the victims died from smoke inhalation. Acting Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Connor later said the sentencing should send a message to all landlords in the city.

He said the city recently received a $4,000 federal grant through AmeriCorps to provide free smoke detectors with installation to senior citizens and low-income residents.

Anyone interested in getting a free smoke detector is asked to call 335-8853.