Wrongful death suit filed over fatal Roxana apartment fire

Andrea Dearden Apr. 19, 2012, 1:37am


A Roxana landlord is accused of negligence and wrongful death after an apartment fire that killed two children and injured their mother.

Tiffany Gresham and Toni Leeds, as special administrator of the estate of Skye Nichole Gresham and the estate of Jason Matthew Gresham II, filed a lawsuit against Dawson M. Cooper on April 9 in Madison County Circuit Court.

Tiffany Gresham, the mother of Syke Nichole Gresham and Jason Matthew Gresham II, says she lived with her children in a Roxana home owned by Cooper. The East Third Street property was split into three apartments -- two on the first floor and one on the second floor, according to the complaint. Gresham says she and her children moved into the upstairs apartment in October 2010.

Four months after her family moved in, on Feb. 5, 2011, Gresham says the house was destroyed by fire. She says her two children, ages 5 and 6, died as a result of injuries they received. Gresham contends a faulty stove, electrical and gas line problems and missing or malfunctioning smoke detectors were to blame.

The 11-page complaint filed against the owner of the rental property details the work done to convert the single-family home to a 3-unit apartment building. Gresham says electrical and gas lines were installed and appliances were added to create kitchens and bathrooms in rooms that had previously been living areas. In order to meet building code requirements Cooper was required to have working smoke detectors in specific locations throughout the apartments, according to the petition.

Gresham alleges Cooper "carelessly and negligently" failed to properly install electrical and gas lines, failed to inspect or maintain the stove in the upstairs apartment, failed to warn the tenants about the risk of fire and failed to install and maintain the proper number of smoke alarms in the unit.

Gresham says she suffered smoke inhalation during the fire and has "lost the ability to lead a normal life." She says she has also endured pain, suffering and disfigurement. She accuses Cooper of negligence and is asking to be awarded more than $50,000 in damages.

Plaintiff Tony Leeds, the special administrator for the estates of Gresham's deceased children, also accuses Cooper of wrongful death. He says the 5-year-old and 6-year-old were sleeping when the fire began.

Both allegedly suffered smoke inhalation and later died. Leeds says the deaths of Sky Nichole and Jason Matthew have caused their parents and younger siblings grief, sorrow and mental suffering. Leeds is asking to be awarded more than $100,000 in damages for the wrongful death claim.

Attorneys Judy L. Cates and Ryan J. Mahoney of The Cates Law Firm in Swansea are representing Gresham and Leeds.

Cates is the Democratic candidate in the Fifth District Appellate Court.

Madison County Circuit Court Case No. 2012-L-434

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