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Two Years Later Five are Charged for Retirement Home Arson

San Francisco Chronicle via YellowBrix

June 28, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – Five owners or operators of the Vallejo retirement home where three residents died in a 2008 fire have been charged with criminal violations, authorities said.

The fire started accidentally when a spark from a cigar that Robert Bennett, a resident of Casa de Vallejo, had been smoking near an oxygen cylinder ignited the tank’s oxygen, investigators said. Bennett, 68, and two other residents, John Argente, 74, and Harold Fortune, 61, died

The retirement home’s warning system was disabled for repairs two months before the Aug. 15, 2008, fire, a Vallejo Fire Department report found. It was still not operating when the fire broke out, so no alarm sounded when the flames spread.

Solano County District Attorney David Paulson said his office has filed charges against five officials of Vallejo Housing Partners, which owns the building at 1825 Sonoma Blvd.: Ruben Islas, Jules Arthur, Martha Islas-Enriquez, Jeremy Turner and Michael Hagigeorgio.

Islas and Arthur own the company, and Islas-Enriquez is CEO. Turner is the director of construction management and Hagigeorgio was the project manager for the fire-alarm installation.

Each has been charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of elder abuse causing death and one count of elder abuse for displacing the 117 other residents, Paulson said.

The fire caused an estimated $6 million in damage. The 89-year-old retirement home housed low-income senior citizens who had vouchers from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.