PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Phone calls to the Providence Police reveal a tenant predicted a fire would erupt at 110 Bowdoin St. five days before the house burst into flames and left one woman dead, the Target 12 investigators have learned.
The frantic phone call from tenant Roland Colpitts was made on New Year’s Day, as freezing temperatures forced residents to use space heaters and hot plates because there was no working heat in the building. In the 911 recording, Colpitts tells the dispatcher extension cords were running throughout the building and the electrical panel continued to trip, which was shutting off his wife’s oxygen machine.
The dispatcher initially tells Colpitts, “I’m not really sure what we’re going to be able to do about that, sir.”
She asks, “Have you thought about finding a new place to live?”
“How can I?” Colpitts responds. “He’s got all of our money and everything …. He refuses to do anything. What am I supposed to do?”
Lindsay Lague, a spokesperson for the police department, said the dispatcher’s comments to Colpitts have been addressed internally.
“Immediately following a complete review of the dispatch recordings, appropriate disciplinary actions were taken related to the nature of the dispatcher’s response to the complainant,” Lague said in an email.
The city initially denied Target 12’s request for the 911 calls, citing a unique state law that requires written permission from the person who made the call. After tracking down Colpitts, he gave Target 12 permission to obtain the recordings.
Jan. 1 turned out to be a busy night for the police department, including a shooting, so the dispatcher reached out to the fire department to ask if they could check out Colpitts’ complaints. They sent an engine company, which then requested a fire department inspector. Records show a battalion chief also responded and discovered the house littered with extension cords and an open electrical panel in the basement.
Colpitts called the police department again the following day, claiming the landlord, Dexter Jackson, was threatening him for alerting the authorities.
“My landlord threatened me with bodily harm as a repercussion because I called the inspectors on him,” Colpitts told police. “He’s at my door threatening to kick it in right now.”
A police log shows an officer responded and left about 50 minutes later.
On Wednesday, Jan. 3, a city building official inspected the property and determined it was being run as an illegal boarding house. He wrote in a report that he was intending to condemn the property the following Monday, once a major snowstorm had passed through the region.
But early on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 6 – five days after Colpitts’ initial call to police – a fire erupted at 110 Bowdoin. Investigators have concluded the likely cause was one of the alternative heating sources. Firefighters later recovered the body of 49-year-old Lucienda Feliciano from the embers of the home.
Jackson was not charged in the case.
A property report from the Providence Department of Inspection and Standards shows 110 Bowdoin had been the subject of city scrutiny for years. A July 2015 visit by building inspector Michael Royster shows he cleared the building of a long list of violations, in one case writing that heat had been restored to the “entire building.”
But Ted Kresse, a spokesperson for National Grid, said records show natural gas was only being supplied to one of the building’s apartments at that time. The entire building was then shut off to gas service in September 2017. Kresse has previously said he cannot disclose why service was halted.
In a phone interview, Jeffrey Lykins, the head of Inspection and Standards, acknowledged the 2015 inspection of the property was “sloppy,” but said it is not common practice to have a second building official or manager review another inspector’s work due to “workload and staff availability.”
Lykins said Royster should have looked at building permits to verify if work had been done. “Evidently he didn’t,” Lykins said. “He didn’t do all that was necessary to verify that.”
A spokesperson for the city said Royster was terminated in October but declined to comment further because it was a personnel matter. An attorney for Royster said they are fighting his termination as part of a grievance process but did not immediately respond to a call seeking further comment.
Lykins said it’s unclear why several previous inspectors did not recognize the home was being run as an illegal boarding house as the inspector did three days before the fatal fire.
“There could be various reasons,” he said. “It could have been converted to that at any point and time.”
Lykins said in the wake of the Bowdoin Street fire, his department is reviewing its policies and procedures to see if officials can take a more aggressive approach when it comes to lifting a notice of condemnation.
“We are reviewing all of our documents and workflow and how it happened and trying to look at what legally I can demand,” Lykins said. “We are certainly going to examine our workflow on that.”