'Greedy choices were made': Families of those killed in highrise blaze sue

'Greedy choices were made': Families of those killed in highrise blaze sue

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The families of those killed in a massive, seven-alarm blaze at the Marco Polo nearly a year ago have filed a lawsuit against the apartment building's management company and its apartment owners association, alleging that better fire safety measures could have prevented the deaths.

The suit was officially announced at a news conference Thursday, which was attended by relatives of those who were lost.

Phil Reller, whose brother and mother were killed in the fire, said simple steps could have been taken to keep people safe.

"We're here to remember them and hopefully look for accountability," Reller said, at the news conference at the law offices of Davis Levin Livingston. "There are hundreds if not thousands of innocent Hawaii citizens who live in condo towers with inadequate life safety and fire safety mechanisms."

He added, "It's really about the greedy choices that were made."

The suit alleges that:

  • Most of the Marco Polo units did not have smoke detectors.
  • The building's fire alarm system was "in disrepair," and a number of residents couldn't hear it.
  • The elevator system was not maintained or configured to assist firefighter access to floors.
  • An emergency lighting system wasn't adequate to light hallways.
  • And the building's property manager and apartment owners association were warned about the safety issues and did nothing.

"Unfortunately ... it was only a matter of when, not if, this tragedy would occur at the Marco Polo," the law firm said.

Associa Hawaii and the Marco Polo apartment owners association declined comment Wednesday.

Ohana Control Systems, which took over testing and inspection of the building's fire alarm system in 2011, was also named in the lawsuit.

Amir Borochov, of Ohana Control, stressed that the company didn't install the system and repeatedly urged the building's property management companies to upgrade it. "We constantly recommended that they upgrade, gave proposals, continued to maintain it," Borochov said.

The blaze on July 14 has been called the worst highrise fire in modern Hawaii history. Three people were killed in the fire, and one person who was injured subsequently died. The flames also damaged hundreds of units, leaving a number unlivable.

Nearly 12 months later, families are still picking up the pieces.

In a statement Wednesday, the mayor said a year after the fire, "we remember the lives lost, and look forward to the future."

"This was one of the most devastating fires ever seen in our city, and even today, residents of the Marco Polo are still working to fully recover," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, adding that the fire underscored the need for sprinklers in highrise buildings.

This story will be updated.

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