Bengal Tiger Final Report

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10 5 Fire Investigation Det. K. Farrelly D39/1866 144 E. Post Rd. Bengal Tiger


10 24722 07/07/10 10/20/10

CITY OF WHITE PLAINS POLICE DEPARTMENT CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION INCIDENT 10-24722 SUMMARY REPORT On 07/07/10 at approximately 1425, White Plains Police dispatchers received numerous 911 calls from employees from the Latin American Caf, the Bengal Tiger restaurant, and from multiple alarm companies reporting a fire in the area of 141 E. Post Rd. Both businesses were occupants of a larger single floor building owned and managed by Boston Post Properties Inc. All businesses in this building shared a common corridor in the basement and a common cockloft in the roof. White Plains Police dispatchers notified the White Plains Fire Department, and WPFD Engine 70 and Ladder 32 were dispatched to the area of 141 E. Post Rd. WPFD personnel arrived on scene at 141 E. Post Rd. at 1433 and reported no visible smoke at that time. Dispatchers redirected fire personnel to 144 E. Post Rd., who then arrived on scene at 1435. Upon arrival, WPFD advised dispatchers of smoke emanating from the rear of the structure, and WPFD Engine 65 and Engine 67 were dispatched to the scene as well. At 1437, WPFD Engine 70 personnel reported observing an active fire and flames in the basement of the structure. At 1439, WPFD personnel entered the structure with water lines and began fighting the fire from inside of the building. Additional fire personnel began fighting the fire from the exterior of the structure. By 1447, WPFD Chief Lyman requested mutual aid, asking for additional fire departments to respond to White Plains to assist with fire fighting operations. By 1450, WPFD personnel reported that the structural integrity of the floor inside of 144 E. Post Rd. was compromised, and WPFD supervisors ordered all personnel to withdraw from the interior of the structure. The entire interior of this restaurant was completely engulfed in flames shortly thereafter. White Plains Fire Department personnel along with fire personnel from numerous neighboring fire districts continued to fight the fire in 144 E. Post Rd. from the exterior for the next several hours. During the initial phases of the fire, the flames appeared to have caught the wall in the northeast corner of the Bengal Tiger restaurant basement and traveled upwards on the restaurants walls toward the roof. Once in the roof, the fire traveled into the common cockloft of the building, and quickly spread across the roof to the other stores in the building. The fire then burned downward from the roof into the main floor area of these businesses, eventually engulfing each of these businesses as well. By approximately 2039, the approximately 60 fire personnel on scene had gained control of the fire. It took several more hours of battling the fire from the exterior before the fire was officially declared knocked down. Upon the conclusion of fire fighting operations, seven businesses had been destroyed by the fire. A fire watch was maintained on the scene for the rest of the night and the following day by WPFD. WPPD personnel remained on scene as well for a crime scene watch.


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SUPPLEMENTARY INCIDENT REPORTOn 07/07/10 a fire investigation team was formed consisting of Lt. Heffernan, Lt. Manganello, Lt. Casarella, Lt. Scapperotti, Lt. Blaine, and Fire Fighter Birittieri from the White Plains Fire Department along with Lt. Fischer, Sgt. Doherty, and I, Det. Farrelly from the White Plains Police Department to investigate the incident. The initial phase of the investigation consisted of obtaining witness statements from employees of the Bengal Tiger and Latin American Caf, along with WPFD fire personnel, and the owner of the Bengal Tiger, Simson M. Kalathara (M/A, 12/19/40). Over the next several days, WPPD detectives conducted ten interviews of employees who were on scene that day. During these initial interviews, employees of the Latin American caf reported seeing smoke in the basement of the building at 1415, approximately 9 minutes before the initial 911 call. Numerous statements confirmed that Bengal Tiger personnel discovered the smoldering bags of charcoal in the basement and attempted to put it out themselves before calling for Fire Department assistance. On 07/08/10, the investigation into the fire scene was begun by the fire investigation team. Initial phases of this portion of the investigation consisted of observation and photography of the exterior portions of the structure. With the assistance of the Westchester County Police aviation unit, aerial photos of the scene were obtained as well. An initial scan of the scene revealed extensive fire damage. The fire appeared to have burned hot enough to deform several of the 12 thick steel I-beams in the roof of the building. A large portion of the contents of the building were burned beyond recognition. Throughout the day on 07/08/10 and 07/09/10, numerous structural engineers and representatives from the White Plains Building Department and Public Works Department examined the scene as well. Building department personnel determined that the building was not structurally sound and not fit for human occupancy. Representatives from the Mayors Office, Building Department, Public Works Department, and Department of Public Safety ultimately determined the front faade of the building would have to be removed, as it posed an immediate threat to the safety of the public. On 07/10/10, Capital Waste Services was contracted by the city to remove the front faade of business, along with the front portion of the store. All debris from this portion of the building was transported in separate dumpsters to the White Plains City Dump at 85 Gedney Way, where they were dumped in individual piles in a specially designated portion of the dump. After this front faade and front portion of the business had been removed, Building Department personnel determined that the structure was still not safe for human occupancy, and all police and fire personnel were forbidden to enter the scene. On 07/11/10, White Plains Water Department supervisors determined that during the course of the fire, a water line leading into 144 E. Post Rd. had broken, and had been pouring water into the scene since 07/07/10. Water Department personnel were eventually able to close a water valve under E. Post Rd. and stop the water flow into the scene. Once the water flow was terminated, investigators determined that there was approximately six to seven feet of standing water in the basement of the businesses affected by the fire. The Water Department and Fire Department set up pumps and began draining the water from the scene. The pumps were run for approximately 14 hours, and the majority of the water was removed from the scene. Once the water had been removed, it became visible that there was approximately two feet of debris on the floor of the basement of the affected businesses. On 07/13/10, representatives from Boston Post Properties met with White Plains Building Department, Public Works Department, and Mayors Office regarding the status of the building. Engineers from the Building Department determined that the structure was not safe for human occupancy,


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SUPPLEMENTARY INCIDENT REPORTand recommended that the entire building be razed. Boston Post Properties was given until 07/15/10 to begin demolition. On 07/15/10 at 1100, Capital Waste Services began the complete demolition process of the building, beginning at the Court St. side of the structure and working their way eastbound towards the Bengal Tiger portion of the building. WPFD personnel and I, Det. Farrelly, were on scene for all portions of the demolition to monitor for any potential evidence. Extensive photographs were taken daily to document the progress of the demolition. As demolition of the site continued, a Police Officer was posted at the site 24 hours a day to maintain crime scene security. On 07/20/10, the demolition of the building had reached the portion of the structure that contained the Bengal Grocery Store. As debris was being removed from this portion of the building, it was systematically removed, placed in separate dumpsters, and removed to 85 Gedney Way for safekeeping. At this point, it was determined that investigators could enter the scene with proper safety equipment. Investigators were able to explore the basement portion of the Bengal Grocery Store and Bengal Tiger Restaurant, where we discovered extensive fire damage. The remaining portion of the floor in the grocery store and restaurant showed extensive fire damage on the underside, while there was superficial fire damage to the wood on the top side, indicating that the fire generated substantially more heat in the basement portion of the building below the floor. Further examination of the basement portion revealed a distinctive V shaped burn pattern on the cinder block wall near one of the storage areas in the northwest corner of the Bengal Tiger Restaurant basement, indicating a potential point of origin of the fire. As per the fire department report, the cement skim coat on the wall in this section of the basement had spalled. In this portion of the basement, the solder on the joints on sewer pipes running through this portion was completely melted away, further indicating higher levels of heat in this section. On 07/23/10, an accelerant detecting K9 handled by Capt. Gus Spedaliere of the Greenville Fire District was brought in to examine the scene. After a thorough examination of the scene, the K9 indicated on two spots in a storage area in the basement underneath the dining room portion of the Bengal Tiger. Samples were obtained from these two locations on 07/26/10, which were later transported to the Westchester County Crime Laboratory for analysis. On 07/26/10, excavation on the Bengal Tiger Restaurant portion of the building resumed. Again, debris from this portion of the building was systematically removed, placed in separate dumpsters, and removed to 85 Gedney Way for safekeeping. All of the electrical fuse boxes, electrical panels, and other electrical components were removed from the scene, examined by investigators, and removed to 85 Gedney Way for safekeeping. As demolition reached the storage area of the basement, we ordered Capital Waste Services personnel to temporarily cease using heavy equipment, and WPFD investigators and I began removing debris from basement using shovels and hand tools. We began sifting through the approximately 2 feet of debris on the basement floor. Any items deemed as potential evidence were removed from the pile, photographed, and eventually removed to 85 Gedney Way. Later that afternoon, Capt. Spedaliere returned to the scene with his K9 and reexamined the scene. The K9 again indicated on three locations in the storage area of the basement. Samples from these locations were obtained and eventually transported to the Westchester County Crime Laboratory for processing. While the demolition and excavation processes were continuing, WPPD Detectives continued to conduct second, third, and fourth interviews of several of the employees of the Bengal Tiger regarding the events of 07/07/10. Some of the employees were brought back to the scene of the incident during the demolition process to help investigators reconstruct the layout of the basement and determine the layout and configuration of the basement and its storage areas. During these interviews, WPPD utilized


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SUPPLEMENTARY INCIDENT REPORTtranslators speaking Hindi, Spanish, and Creole, which were all dialects spoken by employees of the businesses in the building, to properly obtain the full story of what occurred that day. Employees were adamant that no food preparation or cooking ever occurred in the basement. Throughout these interviews, several employees admitted to locating smoldering bags of charcoal near the boiler room portion of the basement, which they attempted to pour water on and extinguish. Employees stated that this charcoal was regularly stored in the basement and was used to cook Tandoori chicken and bread. Through research, investigators determined that wood charcoal is susceptible to spontaneous ignition when wet. A search of the fire scene located the remnants of between ten and twenty bags of wood charcoal stacked in piles three or four bags high. The physical arrangement and mass of the charcoal are important factors affecting spontaneous ignition. On the date of this incident, the White Plains area was in the middle of a record breaking heat wave with temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s for multiple days straight. This could also have contributed to an increase in the ambient temperature of the charcoal along with the charcoals location near the boiler room. If appropriate circumstances existed in the basement, ignition of the charcoal may have been possible. However the location where this charcoal was located was approximately twenty feet away from the storage area in the basement where the greatest fire damage was located. As further interviews were being conducted, a complete financial background check of Kalathara was conducted. This search revealed that on 04/09/03, Kalathara filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection on behalf of the Bengal Tiger in United States Federal Court (New York Southern District White Plains). Kalathara and Bengal Tiger had seven total (State and Federal) active Tax Liens on the business at the time of the incident for over $300,000. On 10/27/08, Kalathara filed with Federal Court in White Plains to have this bankruptcy converted to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and on 06/17/10, the status of the case was officially changed to Chapter 7. Mark S. Tulis Esq. was appointed by the Federal Magistrate handling the case to be the Trustee for the business. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the liquidation phase of bankruptcy, and all assets of the business are dissolved and awarded to creditors. As a result of this, any insurance money obtained from this fire would immediately go to creditors, and there would be no financial gain for Kalathara resulting from this fire. On 07/28/10, examination of the scene continued. All wiring and fixtures in the storage area of the basement were examined, and all appeared to be intact. Investigators were able to rule out electrical components as an ignition source in this portion of the basement. All fixtures and outlets from this portion were saved as evidence, and the wiring in this portion was labeled for future examination. The kitchen portion of the restaurant sat on top of a 2 to 3 foot crawlspace...