Four Suspects Plead Not Guilty in Evergreen Fire Case

Spring Valley village building inspector Wayne Ballard pleaded not guilty on July 13 to falsifying a report to the state. Manuel Lema, an Evergreen employee, pleaded not guilty on July 6 to criminal impersonation and obstructing governmental administration. Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, arson, assault in the second and third degree, and reckless endangerment. 

Ballard’s complaint alleges that he submitted a uniform code administration and enforcement report in 2019 with the belief or knowledge that it contained false information. According to the complaint, Ballard submitted false Spring Valley Village business records to the Department of State, “with intent to defraud.”

Ballard was released without bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 28.

According to the criminal complaint against Lema, the employee called the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department Communications Division to request that Evergreen’s fire alarm be taken off-line, and identified himself as “Enrique”, who is a different employee of the Evergreen home.

The fire alarm was set on “test” mode for eight hours after Lema called the division, and as a result, “prevented dispatchers for Rockland County Sheriff’s Department Communications Division from alerting other law enforcement agencies of fire alarms which were activated at 65 Lafayette Street during the time period the fire alarm system was on “test” mode,” stated the complaint. The complaint further alleges that Lema’s actions delayed the Spring Valley Police Department’s investigation into the source of the phone call.

The complaint  against Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer alleges that they “intentionally started a fire, consisting of a lit torch, within 65 Lafayette Street and recklessly damaged the building at 65 Lafayette Street, due to the ensuing fire which engulfed and destroyed the building.” It is asserted in the complaint that their actions caused the deaths of volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and resident Oliver Hueston, along with the injuries reported.

The Sommers were each released on $200,000 bail and are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 31.

Two others have been charged as part of the investigation.

Raymond Canario, assistant village building inspector, is accused of filing fraudulent reports to the state in 2019, for the years 2017 and 2018.

Denise Kerr, Evergreen Director, is charged with reckless endangerment. Her complaint alleges that she allowed and observed the conduct of Nathaniel and Aaron Sommer, “with knowledge that no operating permit for any use of a lit torch had been issued, no “prework check” report had been conducted, no signs or warnings that a lit torch was being utilized were posted, no shielding to prevent sparks, slag or heat from igniting combustibles had been erected, and no “fire watch” was conducted at any time period when the torch was being utilized inside the kitchen.” It is also claimed that Kerr knew the alarm system was placed on “test” mode.

Aftermath of Evergreen inferno, Photo By: Kathy Kahn

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