Mark Leonardis and Mario Lora charged with cutting Paterson warehouse sprinkler line before fire
PATERSON - Many residents impacted by a February warehouse fire in Paterson were angered after hearing that two men allegedly prevented the sprinkler system from knocking down the blaze.
Passaic County prosecutors say Mark Leonardis, the owner of the George Street building, and his employee Mario Lora are accused of shutting down the emergency sprinkler system by cutting a valve chain.
The fire raged out of control, forced evacuations and street closures and shut businesses down. Firefighters say the fire was impossible to suppress without a functional sprinkler system.
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Erica Gracia says she evacuated her home as the warehouse across the street burned. That's when robbers broke a window and ransacked her home of valuables.
That day, she blamed the building's owners, not knowing what was behind the out-of-control fire. "The people that own that building, they're going to get my stuff back, because I'm going to fight for it," she said.
Amaury Minaya closed his auto shop due to the fire, and isn't pleased the owners could be responsible.
The fire injured firefighters and kept residents out for five days.
Some residents say they want to know where the police were when looters struck, and now wonder if the building owner set events in motion.
According to the prosecutor's office, three businesses that were displaced by the fire have not been able to return.
Leonardis and Lora have been charged with causing widespread damage.
Neighbors say damage and danger from the fire are still evident. Pieces of the building continue to fall off and some of the interior collapsed last week.