NEW CITY, N.Y. (AP) — A father and son were sentenced Wednesday to probation after reaching a plea deal for starting a fire that killed a firefighter and a resident at an assisted living facility in suburban New York.
Rabbi Nathaniel Sommer, 71, and his 29-year-old son Aaron Sommer will avoid prison after they admitted to acting recklessly in causing the March 23, 2021, fire at the Evergreen Court Home in Spring Valley that killed firefighter Jared Lloyd, 35, and resident Oliver Hueston, 79.
In preparation for Passover, the Sommers were using a blowtorch to burn away remnants of leavened bread in the kitchen when the facility caught fire.
They had reached a plea deal to avoid prison in June, with the father pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter and the son pleading guilty to reckless endangerment.
The Journal News reports that Rockland County Judge Kevin Russo said probation was appropriate, noting that the two men had no criminal history.
“I doubt I will ever see you again in my courtroom,” Russo said of the pair.
Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Walsh said in a statement defending the plea deal that the fire was a “first-of-its-kind case in the State of New York” and that going before a jury would have left open the possibility for an acquittal.
“No one has been convicted, let alone arrested and prosecuted, for utilizing a torch and hot coals for a ritual religious cleaning in the manner the defendants chose that evening,” Walsh said.
WABC-TV reports Nathaniel Sommer apologized in court, saying, “I am sorry, I feel terrible for what I did. I tried my whole life to help people and I did the exact opposite here and hurt so many people and I feel terrible for them."