BRUNSWICK, Maine — Landlord Orville Ranger pleaded guilty last week to a civil violation resulting from an April 17 fire that destroyed his three-story building at Maine and Mason streets.
Ranger will pay a $500 fine as part of a plea agreement completed Nov. 17 at Cumberland County District Court.
As part of the plea agreement, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office dropped a Class E criminal misdemeanor charge of violation of a public fire safety rule in exchange for Ranger’s guilty plea to the civil violation of failure to have more than one way of egress, Brunswick Police Capt. Mark Waltz said Wednesday.
Attorney Peter DeTroy of Norman Hanson & DeTroy, who represented Ranger, confirmed Wednesday that Ranger “admitted to the civil infraction” and paid the $500 fee.
Ranger, 84, of 138 Harding Road owns the property at 45 Maine St., where a dramatic, three-alarm blaze in April destroyed the 174-year-old building that contained apartments and several small businesses. The building since hasbeen razed and the land cleared. A “for sale” sign is posted on the property.
An investigation by Brunswick police and fire departments and the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office determined that the building violated the public fire safety rule because it did not have an adequate smoke detector system, Waltz said in June.
Also, although such buildings are required to have two means of egress from the second floor, the 45 Maine St. building only had one from the Mason Street side and one from the Maine Street side — with no way to access a second exit from either side.
Two days after the building burned, investigators said the cause of the fire would “remain officially undetermined,” but that electrical malfunctions could not be ruled out because of evidence uncovered during a search of the rubble.
Ranger and his wife, Susan, had been notified previously that the building violated the Uniform Fire Code and Life Safety Code, according to documents obtained by The Times Record at the time. Town officials communicated with Susan Ranger for years about the violations, but as recently as Oct. 12, 2010, an inspection by the State Fire Marshal’s Office detected additional violations.
In June, Waltz said that the department had not previously investigated a potential criminal life safety violation since he joined the force in 1997.
But he said Brunswick police would pursue charges against Ranger “because it became clear from the investigation that the risk to people’s lives was increased needlessly because these code violations hadn’t been fixed. We want to send a message to the building owners that there’s a reason for these improvements, and life safety codes need to be followed or people can be killed. But for the grace of God, people didn’t die in this one — both tenants and firefighters.”
“We’re satisfied that the message has been sent that landlords need to keep their buildings up to code,” Waltz said Wednesday.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Madigan, who prosecuted the case against Ranger, said Wednesday that he does not remember the last time the DA’s office prosecuted charges such as those levied against Ranger.
“Normally codes enforcement officers work with building owners on a regular basis to try to address these issues,” Madigan said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen these types of charges. But this was presented to us by the Brunswick Police Department, and we went ahead and filed the charges, given the length of time and history of the interaction [between the town] and the people.”
Madigan said Ranger’s admission to the civil violation “was the larger concern in terms of the violations going on” in the building.
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