State's Attorney Alvarez announces Criminal Contempt Charges in 2010 fire

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office yesterday filed a criminal contempt of court action against a building owner for failing to comply with court ordered requirements to repair and secure a vacant building on Chicago’s South Side where two Chicago Firefighters lost their lives battling a fire last year, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced. 

A petition for Criminal Contempt of Court was filed today against Chuck Dai, 62, of South Holland.  Dai owned the building at 1738-1744 E. 75th Street and prior to the fatal fire he had failed to comply with an agreed court order requiring that the vacant building be secured and that structural roofing problems be repaired. 

On Dec. 22, 2010, a fire was started inside the vacant building near the rear door, which spread to the entire structure of the facility.  When firefighters went up on the roof to vent the building, the roof collapsed.  The collapse killed firefighters Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34, who were among dozens of firefighters at the scene attempting to extinguish the fire.  An additional 14 firefighters were injured battling the blaze.

 The building, a former commercial laundry, was vacant in 2007 when City of Chicago building inspectors cited the property with 14 building code violations, specifically noting that the roof and roof trusses were rotted, had holes and were leaking.  Over the next year, Dai failed to show up at numerous court dates and was eventually fined more than $14,000 for failing to address the violations.  In October of 2009, in an effort to reduce the fines, Dai agreed to make all of the required repairs and secure the building from trespassers.

On the date of the fatal fire, Dai had still failed to make the required repairs and the building was unsecured when the fire was set.  

Alvarez said her office has been working in cooperation with the City’s Law Department in evaluating the possibility for criminal action in the case beyond administrative sanctions.

“Given this tragic series of events and the grave circumstances of the loss of two first responding firefighters, we feel very strongly that a criminal sanction is required and is appropriate in this case,” Alvarez said. 

“With the extensive amount of vacant and abandoned buildings as well as foreclosed properties in our communities right now, this action should also send an important message to property owners that they have a legal and a civic responsibility to maintain their property in a safe and responsible fashion.”

The criminal contempt petition was filed today by Cook County prosecutors at the Criminal Courts Building at 26th and California.  Dai is scheduled to appear in court next week.