SAN FRANCISCO (KRON/BCN) — Family members of a 3-year-old boy and his mother who died in a fire at a San Francisco public housing complex last year have filed a lawsuit against the city.
The lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court alleges that the deaths were a result of failure by the city’s Housing Authority to investigate an electrical issue at the home.
The fire occurred April 16, 2014, at a two-story Sunnydale public housing apartment on Brookdale Ave., killing 32-year-old Esther “Eseta” Ioane and her son Santana Williams. The mother’s body was found covering her child in an apparent attempt to shield the boy from the flames.
The fire investigators’ report states that there was a smoke detector in the home, but it didn’t work.
In 2011, Ioane had complained about the state of disrepair at the housing unit and even refused to pay rent until repairs were made, according to court documents.
Ioane described a “defective electrical system; no heat” as well as windows that did not open properly, falling plaster and even a spider infestation. She said the Housing Authority failed to perform the obligations specified in the rental agreement.
An attorney for the family said the fatal fire occurred “because of the negligence of the San Francisco Housing Authority.” Attorneys also accuse the city of failing to provide working smoke detectors in the apartment.
The attorney for the San Francisco Housing Authority was not immediately available to comment on the case, which has a status hearing scheduled for Aug. 12.
The Housing Authority provided documents to fire investigators indicating that during the weeks prior to the fire, a request had been made to check that the smoke detectors at that home were in working condition.
Fire investigators found that the fire started in the west wall of the home’s living room, but they could not determine the exact cause of the blaze, according to the report.
An electrical outlet showed signs of a possible electrical problem, which could not be ruled out, the report said. A heater in the home was also a possible cause.
The heater was sometimes used to dry clothing and was often left on high, according to witnesses.
Investigators also said they could not rule out carelessly discarded smoking materials as a cause of the fire.
Witnesses told investigators that Ioane would “party all day” and often fell asleep on the couch “with something cooking in or on the stove or with a cigarette or weed” in her hand.
The fire investigation report notes that “two glass pipes typically used for smoking recreational drugs were located” in the living room.
The fire at the Sunnydale complex prompted community members to invite policymakers and concerned citizens to see the poorly maintained housing complex and urge them to help push for repairs.
The San Francisco Housing Authority is in the process of transferring management of its long-dilapidated public housing units to nonprofit and private housing providers.