Investigators given go-ahead to return to site of fatal Columbia Street fire

By NEWSChannel 2 Staff

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The landlord of the Columbia Street apartment building where one man died in a January fire appeared in Utica City Court on Monday.

Michael Morrisey was cited with codes violations following the January 23 fire that killed 50 year old Jeffrey Howarth.

Morrisey has been cited for lack of fire extinguishers in what fire officials call a multi-unit structure, lack of maintenance to existing smoke alarms, inadequate number of smoke alarms for that type of structure and, perhaps most significant, failure to register the property as a multiple dwelling structure.

While fire officials referred to the structure as a "boarding house," Morrisey says that isn't true. He says that the structure is a two flat, two-family home and that it is a matter of multiple people renting rooms within those apartments.

Morrisey told NEWSChannel 2 in February that police were called to the residence as a result of a burglary from the man that passed away and that the fire started roughly five to ten minutes after police left the building. When asked in February if there was anything in the investigation that would lead investigators to believe the fire was arson, Fire Marshal Gerald Foster said "I wouldn't use the word arson. I would use, that there might be some questionable activity that was in the apartment or in the structure at the time of the fire, or prior to the fire."

City attorneys have offered Morrisey a plea deal for two of the codes violations, and say all others would be dropped. On Monday, Morrisey and his attorney asked for 30 days to mull it over.

Also on Monday, Morrisey gave permission when the Fire Marshall Foster asked to be allowed back into the building before it is demolished.

"Once again, more data has been forwarded to my office, so we need to confirm that data and the only way to do that is to get back in and take a second look with fresh eyes and make sure we didn't miss anything, just to make sure we did a complete investigation," Foster said.

Morrisey is due back in city court on April 8.

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