Mother of 3 kids killed in Little Village blaze sues city, building owners

SHARE Mother of 3 kids killed in Little Village blaze sues city, building owners

Ten children died in a fire last year at a rear apartment building at 2224 S. Sacramento Ave. | Chicago Fire Media Affairs

The mother of three of the ten children who died in an apartment fire last August in Little Village has filed suit against the city, Ald. George Cardenas (12th), the building’s owners and a family member who was supposed to be watching the kids.

During the early morning hours of Aug. 26, the fire broke out on the porch of a rear apartment building at 2224 S. Sacramento Ave., authorities have said.

The fire eventually claimed the lives of 10 children who ranged in age from 3 months to 16 years old, including 3-year-old Alanni Ayala, 5-year-old Gialanni Ayala and 10-year-old Giovanni Ayala.

Their mother, Priscilla Cobos, filed the suit on their behalf Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, casting blame on each of the named defendants.

The suit holds that Cardenas and the city allowed the building owners, Merced and Maria Gutierrez, to continue renting the property despite being aware of code violations, including a lack of any fire detection system. According to the suit, the Gutierrezes failed to provide or maintain working smoke detectors or install carbon monoxide detectors, among other code violations.

Chicago Fire Department officials initially said they didn’t find any smoke detectors in the unit where the blaze broke out, but later said they found a smoke detector without functional batteries.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said he hadn’t received the suit and declined to comment. Cardenas’ office and the attorney for the Gutierrezes didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The suit also names Yolanda Ayala, who lived in the rear unit and was supposed to be watching Cobos’ children after she dropped them off for a sleepover with their cousins. Yolanda Ayala, who lost five of her own children in the fire, allegedly left the apartment before it started, placing the children “in a harmful situation by leaving them alone without appropriate supervision.”

In August, the Department of Children and Family Services announced that Yolanda Ayala had been the subject of 21 child-welfare investigations, 19 of which were ruled “unfounded.”

“None of these individual reports by itself rose to the level of our removing children from their parents,” said DCFS, which opened another investigation following the fire.

In the CFD’s final report, issued last month, authorities were unable to pinpoint the cause of the “incendiary” fire or conclude whether it was set intentionally.

“There are many scenarios that could support that finding from accidental to intentional,” the report states. “We may never know the exact scenario that caused this tragic fire that took the lives of 10 young people. The cause could range from careless use of smoking materials to fireworks or even improper use of a lighter or matches.”

Police spokeswoman Christine Calace said there were no updates regarding the department’s investigation into the fire, which has not been classified as an arson.

Last month, a demolition order for the rear building was entered in Cook County Circuit Court, records show. It stipulates the building must be gone by July 18.

Cobos’ six-count suit seeks upwards of $300,000 — including over $150,000 from Merced and Maria Gutierrez and more than $50,000 each from the city, Cardenas and Ayala.

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