Rockland County District Attorney Tom Walsh announced the arrests of four Rockland County men in connection to the fatal fire at the Evergreen Assisted Living Facility on March 23, 2021. These charges mark the first step in achieving closure for a community devastated by an inferno that took the life of volunteer firefighter Jared Lloyd and Oliver Hueston, a 79-year-old resident of the home.
Nathaniel Sommer and his son Aaron Sommer are facing multiple charges of manslaughter, arson, assault and reckless endangerment. If found guilty, they could each be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Wayne Ballard and Raymond Canario, both former Spring Valley village building inspectors, are being charged with falsifying records related to the facility. Ballard and Canario could each spend a maximum of four years behind bars, if found guilty.
Two arrest warrants were also issued for Denise Kerr, former Evergreen Director, and Manuel Lema, who was also an employee of the facility. The charges brought against them steam from actions taken inside the building prior to the start of the fire, according to the DA.
Kerr and Lema are accused of reckless endangerment and criminal impersonation respectively, both misdemeanor charges. They could each face a maximum sentence of one year in jail if convicted.
Aaron and Nathaniel Sommer are both charged with the same crimes for actions “which have been determined to cause the fire,” said Walsh. John Tomlin, the spokesperson for Evergreen Court, clarified that the Sommers were not employees of the adult care home but were independently contracted to “kosherize” the home’s ovens in preparation for Passover.
Both men were arraigned in Spring Valley Justice Court before Judge David Fried. Bail was set, and they were transported to the Rockland County Jail. Ballard and Canario were processed and released on appearance tickets. They will appear in Spring Valley Justice Court in July.
Tuesday’s arrests were preceded by a search warrant sanctioned raid on Spring Valley Village Hall, carried out last Wednesday by New York State Police and Fire Inspectors, who removed 20 to 30 boxes of documents from the building.
Authorities have remained tight-lipped as to the exact circumstances of the alleged arson. Walsh said the investigation is ongoing and more details will be given once the case goes to trial.
The investigation involves the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Spring Valley Police Department, Rockland County Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York State Police, and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Special Investigations Unit.