2009-06-05 / Front Page

Officials Hope To Learn From Tragedy

By Nicholas Briano

State and City officials are calling for an overhaul of handicap accessibility laws throughout the city's public housing after a 54-year-old woman died last week trying to save her disabled daughter from a burning apartment.

Lorna Whyms was declared dead at the scene of last week's fire at Carlton Manor when she and her disabled daughter, Erica Whyms, 18, became trapped inside their apartment. Whyms, who suffers from cerebral palsy, remains in critical condition at The Weill Cornell Burn Center, according to officials.

The fire started last Wednesday at 9:45 a.m. on the tenth floor of the 11-story building located at 71-15 Beach Channel Drive and took more than 78 firefighters to battle the blaze. The following day, City and State elected officials, and FDNY and New York City Housing Authority officials toured the building, spoke with residents and held a press conference calling for handicap reform that would require disabled residents to be housed on the lower floors of public housing.

"There should be some preference given to those in wheelchairs," State Senator Malcolm Smith said in regard to moving the disabled to lower floors.

Tenant Association President Lowanda Gainey said the building is like family and describes the elder Whyms as a loving and caring mother.

Deputy Fire Chief James DiDomenico says they found the mother by the window where the fire originated and that smoke detectors were reported in working condition.

"We found the mother and daughter in the same bedroom," he said. "Pots of water were found indicating the mother was trying to put out the fire.

Councilmember James Sanders, Jr. hopes a lesson can be learned from the tragedy.

"This should serve as a wake-up call," he said. "We have to move the disabled further downstairs. This tragedy could have been much worse."

Police sources say that Community Affairs Police Officers Maurice Roper and Kevin Campbell from the 101 Precinct were among the first responders when they were driving past the public housing complex and noticed the fire coming from the window.

According to FDNY officials it is still unclear what caused the fire, which remains under investigation.

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