Boland Hall fire
The Boland Hall fire was a fatal fire in Boland Hall, a freshman residence hall on the Seton Hall University campus in South Orange, New Jersey, United States on January 19, 2000. Three students died and many more were injured. It was one of the deadliest college fires in recent U.S. history.
Two students who started the fire as a prank were indicted in mid-2003, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in late 2006, and were sentenced to five years' imprisonment in early 2007.
The fire began around 4:30 AM on January 19 when most students were asleep. It spread rapidly across three couches in the third floor lounge and approached temperatures of up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (815 degrees Celsius) in less than five minutes. Though no accelerant was used, the fire burned hot enough to melt the synthetic carpet of the hall, causing severe injuries to many of the students attempting to escape the conflagration by crawling on the floor to reach the stairs. Most students on the third floor evacuated in the thick smoke using the staircases; a few jumped over 40 feet (12 meters) to the ground. Three students died. Aaron Karol and Frank Caltabilota died of thermal injuries, and John Giunta died due to smoke inhalation. Fifty-eight students and firefighters were injured, four seriously enough to require lengthy hospital stays and rehabilitation.
Another cause of the injuries/deaths was the fact that the residence hall went through several years of false fire alarms causing students to ignore the alarms, including the one warning of this fire.
The three students who died were honored with bachelor's degrees at the Class of 2003 graduation ceremony. The school now has a strict fire code for all residence halls and makes fire safety a top priority.
The investigation following the fire revealed that Boland Hall lacked sprinklers, although the university claimed that at the time that the residence hall was still in compliance with the building code. In response, New Jersey enacted the first mandatory residence hall sprinkler law in the nation.
After a three-and-a-half year investigation, on June 12, 2003, a 60-count indictment charged two freshmen students, Sean Ryan and Joseph LePore, of starting the fire and felony murder for the deaths which resulted.
On January 26, 2007, they were sentenced to five years in a youth correctional facility, but were eligible for parole after 16 months. The families of the victims strongly condemned the two suspects during the sentencing hearing, calling them "cowards" for running away after setting the fire instead of helping to evacuate the dorm.
On March 31, 2008, both LePore and Ryan were denied parole from the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, where they had been incarcerated since February 2007. LePore was to be eligible for parole after another 18 months, and Ryan after another 11.
On May 6, 2009, Ryan was released on parole.
Civil lawsuits by the victims' families are still pending.
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- "Seton still on defensive, despite a safer dorm". Archived from the original on November 7, 2010.
- "Metro Briefing | New Jersey: New Brunswick: Rutgers Installs Sprinklers". New York Times. May 3, 2004. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
- Plea Deal in Seton Hall Dormitory Fire, NY Times, November 16, 2006
- Two sentenced in Seton Hall fire case - Joseph Lepore and Sean Ryan get 5 years for setting dorm fire that killed 3, Eyewitness News, Jan. 26, 2007
- Parole Denied for 2 Who Set Seton Hall Fire, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, April 1, 2008 - accessed July 17, 2009
- First of Seton Hall arsonists leaves prison, The Star Ledger, May 7, 2009 - accessed July 17, 2009
- Dorm Fire Guilty Pleas Permit Suits From Victims, 1010 WINS - accessed July 17, 2009
- Robin Gaby Fisher: After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship. Little Brown and Company 2008. ISBN 0-316-06621-4