Trial likely in fire at Testa house on Mount Desert Island

Posted Feb. 20, 2011, at 9:17 p.m.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a feature called Follow-up in which BDN staff update stories from the past to inform readers of the ongoing effects of subjects covered in the initial reports and any new developments.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A local restaurateur who owns a house where several of his employees lived last summer is expected to face trial over allegations that the house lacked required fire safety precautions when it caught fire last fall.

One man suffered minor injuries in the Oct. 12 blaze, which significantly damaged the Roberts Square house and displaced 10 Testa’s Restaurant workers who were living there.

Tom Testa, whose family owns Testa’s restaurants in Palm Beach, Fla., and Bar Harbor, has requested a jury trial in Hancock County Superior Court over the state’s charges. The State Fire Marshal’s Office accuses Testa of failing to provide vertical opening protection, secondary means of escape for rooms on the first and third floors, a fire alarm system, and more than one way of egress, according to Superior Court documents.

Attempts over the weekend to contact Testa by e-mail about the allegations were unsuccessful.

A status conference on the case in Superior Court has been scheduled for April 22, according to court documents. A trial date has not been set.

The fire, which was reported shortly before midnight on Oct. 12, was traced to an electrical problem in a room on the second floor, according to fire investigators. A man who stopped to visit friends at the house discovered the blaze and subsequently woke up one sleeping resident and alerted another who was awake and listen-ing to headphones, according to restaurant employees. Other people who were living in the house were not home at the time.

A man who lived on the third floor suffered smoke inhalation and a cut to his hand after he broke a window in his room in an attempt to get away from the smoke and flames, officials have said. Local police Officer Eric McLaughlin was credited with helping to save the man by propping up an extension ladder to the window so the man could escape.

Another man had to be rescued from a second-story roof. A cat and dog also were rescued, but another cat died in the fire. Residents lost most of their belongings to the flames.

Testa and his relatives later established an assistance fund for the employees displaced by the fire. The family donated thousands of dollars to set up the fund while others donated clothing and personal items such as toiletries and cell phones to help replace what was destroyed.

Testa has since obtained a building permit from the town to repair damage from the fire. According to Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain, the estimated cost of the repair work is “a little over” $66,000.

The fire was one of multiple public problems that beset the Testa family in 2010.

In November, Testa family cousin and restaurant co-owner Joseph Scheerer died in his Palm Beach home after a heavy piece of furniture fell on him, according to reports in the Palm Beach Daily News. Last summer, a Palm Beach County court ordered a foreclosure auction of the family’s Florida restaurant on March 24, 2011, if they cannot pay off $7.7 million in debt and other costs.

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