State's Attorney files criminal charges for 2010 South-Side blaze

December 21, 2011

By Michell Eloy

(AP/M. Spencer Green)
A makeshift memorial cropped up at the scene of the deadly fire last year.

Cook County prosecutors are seeking criminal contempt charges against the owner of a Chicago building where two firefighters died last year after the roof collapsed in a fire.

Chuck Dai, 62, of South Holland, Ill. is charged with decidedly failing to comply with a 2009 agreed-to court order to repair and secure his vacant south side building, previously used as laundromat.

“Given the tragic series of events and the grave circumstances of the loss of these two dedicated first responding firefighters, as well as the injury of so many other of their colleagues, I feel very strongly that a criminal sanction is required and appropriate in this case,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a press conference on Wednesday.

According to a 2007 complaint filed by the City of Chicago, an investigator cited Dai and his brother, Richard, with 14 building code violations, noting problems with the then-vacated building’s roof and support structures. The complaint alleges the roof and roof trusses of the building were “rotted, had holes and were leaking.”

After failed court appearances and a $14,000 fine, Dai negotiated an agreement in 2009 with the court requiring that he bring his building into compliance with the city’s municipal code by November 2010 in exchange for reducing the fine.

On Dec. 22, 2010 – almost two months after Dai was ordered to have the building up to city standards - the roof collapsed as firefighters were attempting to contain a blaze, killing Edward Stringer, 47, and Corey Ankum, 34, and injuring 14 others.

“There was a court order that was entered. He [Dai] was present when the court order was entered. He signed it, he agreed to it, to repair the necessary violations, and it was never abided by,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez estimated there are 18,000 vacant residences in Chicago, as well 1,500 open and unsecured commercial buildings. She said criminal charges against those who don’t maintain their property are not filed routinely, but that it is an option the city can take.

Dai’s attorney, Gene Murphy, said the State's Attorney's office has no proof that Dia willfully ignored the court order to fix his property.

"There are just horrible accidents that kind of defy definition and defy logic, and they're just that," Murphy said. "They're horrible accidents, and that's what we believe this is."

Dai is scheduled to appear in court next week. The State's Attorney's office wants Dai to serve jail time.