WBEN Photo - Tim Wenger

Legal 'take' on Benzinger Street fire

Plus, Lovejoy community lends helping hand for Conti family

January 30, 2018 - 11:05 am

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - With multiple reports surfacing that a fatal fire in Buffalo's Lovejoy neighborhood early Monday may have been started when the father of the victim lit a cigarette with some type of 'torch', legal experts say the incident could lead to criminal charges.

Anthony Conti, 7, died of injuries suffered in a fire in Benzinger Street Monday and the child's father, Joe Conti, reportedly ignited the fire when lighting a cigarette on the bed in a first floor bedroom.  Buffalo Fire officials have only said the fire is under investigation and have scheduled no update on the probe into the deadly blaze which destroyed the family home and displaced the family of ten.  READ MORE HERE

WBEN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Paul Cambria tells WBEN the case could lead to criminal charges if the fathers' conduct is determined to be "reckless" in nature.

A memorial for the Conti family outside their home (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

"If your conduct is reckless and someone dies as a result of it that could be manslaughter in the 2nd degree which is a C felony", says Cambria.  The maximum sentence for a C felony in New York State is up to 15 years in jail.   A more minor charge of (criminally negligent homicide) could also be assessed in the case.  The key to the case is, says Cambria, "if he admits reckless conduct the district attorney certainly would have a basis to charge him with reckless manslaughter"

Joe Conti spoke with reporters Monday afternoon before reports had surfaced that he may have accidentally ignited the fire and he warned people to be cautious and not turn their eye for even a second.  "He was the most loving boy", Conti said of his son Anthony.

WBEN confirmed on Tuesday that the father was ordered by the courts to stay away from the house. Cambria said this would be a separate misdemeanor.

Community Response

The Lovejoy community has come out in support of the Conti family with donations and a GoFundMe page has been established to assist the family following the tragedy. As of 4 p.m. on Tuesday the community has raised over $16,000 for the family.

SS Peter & Paul Orthodox Church and the Mead Library are also accepting donations. Father Vlad Zablostkyy, a priest at the church, shared with WBEN that the family needs clothes including shirts and shoes.

"It was very devastating because he was such a sweet little boy," Zablotskyy said. "All their children are very well behaved and in today's world, it's a great achievement for the parents to have such nice kids...My wife and I when we go on (vacation), somebody has to stay with the dogs and we always ask them to come. They're just good kids."

He called the support for the community "overwhelming" and said he's glad it continues.

Father Vlad Zablotskyy from the SS Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Buffalo (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

"Once the dust begins to settle people move on and do other things," he said. "I hope this will continue because they need help. They lost everything. They lost a house and they lost a son."

LISTEN: Rev. Vlad Zablotskyy speaks with WBEN's Mike Baggerman about the community response to the Conti family house fire

AUDIO:  Paul Camrbia on Benzinger Street Fire - Legal Look

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