Landlord where firefighters died gets jail time

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Landlord Chuck Dai sentenced to jail time after pleading guilty to a felony charge of Criminal Contempt of Court (WLS)

Chuck Dai was sentenced to six months in jail for failing to make court-ordered repairs to a building where two Chicago firefighters died during a fire in 2010.

Dai, 65, appeared for a sentencing hearing at Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago on Thursday. He will also pay a $5,229 fine.

Dai pled guilty to a felony charge of Criminal Contempt of Court for failing to make court-appointed repairs and secure the building at 1738-1744 East 75th Street.

Failing to comply with building codes would usually result in administrative sanctions, but State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the grave circumstances warranted criminal penalties.

In 2007, Dai was fined for 14 violations at the building, notably problems with the roof and roof trusses, at 1738-1744 East 75th Street. He failed to show up for court, and in 2009, he was fined $14,000 for failing to address the violations. Later that year, Dai agreed to make court-ordered repairs to the roof and to properly secure the building in exchange for a reduction of fines.

That never happened, Alvarez said.

On December 22, 2010, the building at 1738-1744 East 75th Street caught fire. Chicago Firefighters Edward Stringer and Corey Ankum were among the hundreds called to the scene. They were killed when the truss roof collapsed in less than 20 minutes. Fourteen other firefighters were injured.

"Business owners and property owners in the city have a civic responsibility to maintain their buildings in a safe and secure manner," said Mary Lacy, assistant State's Attorney.

Where Ankum and Stringer died is now an empty lot. But their deaths - apart from the criminal prosecution of a property owner - led to another visible change.

Many structures throughout the city have red X's on building fronts - there are 1,800 of them citywide. The X is meant to forewarn first responders and residents that there are structural problems inside.

"We've had dozens of fires in buildings that have red X's, including a very large alarm fire a couple weeks ago on Homan," said Deputy Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II.

The Red X is meant as a visible extra cushion of safety.

"Urban blight is a very challenging community issue and it is also a very serious public safety issue and we will do all that is possible to protect our first responders from the type of negligence that led to this terrible tragedy for the families of these public servants and the entire Chicago Fire Department," Alvarez said in a statement.
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