Family of man ‘cooked alive’ sues Felicity Towers

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Court papers filed in Newark Superior Court on April 21 allege that an elderly man residing in Felicity Tower was “cooked alive” and his wife permanently injured from excessive temperatures coming from the heating unit of their dwelling.

According to the documents, Aniello DiNapoli, 82, and his wife, Immaculate, 77, were found by their grandson, Neal DiNapoli III, and his fiance, motionless in their apartment bedroom which was filled with unbearable heat.

The grandson had come to the apartment to drop off groceries for his grandparents, court papers said.

However, on Dec. 13, 2015, after getting no response after knocking on the door, the grandson pushed open the door.

“Upon opening the door just a few inches,” court papers said, “Neal DiNapoli III and his fiancee, Jacqueline Rivera, immediately felt blistering heat radiating from his grandparents’ apartment.”

The grandson forced his way through the door and seeing the bedroom door open, discovered his motionless grandparents on the bed. A sweater hung from his grandmother’s arm.

According to the papers, Neal screamed in horror and pulled an emergency alarm. His fiancee went downstairs to contact authorities. The couple also called 9-1-1.

The grandson was unable to move his grandfather and thought he was dead. Dry blood was on the man’s cheek. The grandmother, “clearly suffering from extreme pain, attempted to speak, but no volume came out of her mouth,” according to the papers.

The grandson, a high school soccer coach, put his grandmother on the floor and began breathing and chest compressions on her. He also attempted chest compressions on his grandfather but only dry blood came out of his mouth.

Court papers said the grandmother, groaning faintly, was fighting for her life; her lips were dry and chapped from the heat.

An apartment security guard arrived. Acknowledging the excessive heat, he took off his jacket and advised first responders to do the same.

Bloomfield police arrived and found the woman breathing, with a pulse, but unresponsive. According to the Bloomfield Police Department report filed in court, she was given oxygen but the man “was pulseless, breathless and had rigor mortis.”

The BPD report said the thermostat in the apartment was set on cool “but the air conditioning was off for the winter so the heat was on full blast and never stopped. The temperature in the apartment was unbearably hot.” Ice packs and frozen foods were used to cool the woman.

The report said the building manager had advised residents of a problem and not to touch the thermostat. The police checked all other occupied apartments.

A medical examiner’s report was also with the court papers. It contained information provided by the BPD which says the temperature in the room was 90 degrees Fahrenheit with the windows open. The elderly man’s body temperature was 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

A Bloomfield Emergency Medical Service report was also filed. It said the apartment was extremely hot and unsafe for everyone.

“A 77-year-old female was removed from the scene to a cooler area and secured on a stretcher,” according to the EMS report. “Patient was extremely hot to the touch and skin was red.”

The report said the woman’s body temperature was 40 Celsius degrees, which is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. She was taken to University Hospital, Newark. The man was taken to Mountainside Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

When the police arrived, they told the building manager to warn everyone in the building, but according to court documents, the manager assigned this responsibility to a maintenance man.

The lawsuit has been filed by the senior DiNapoli’s son, his grandson, and his wife, who survived. The defendants in the lawsuit are the owners of Felicity Towers: Bloomfield Senior Citizens Assoc.; Bloomfield Senior Housing Assoc.; Bloomfield Senior Housing Corp.; Bloomfield Senior Housing Corp.-Felicity Tower; and Bloomfield Senior Citizens Management Corp. Also named as defendants are the management company of Felicity Towers: R.P. Marzulli Co.; Marzulli Enterprises; Marzulli Management; and the Marzulli Group. Unnamed defendants are also cited as possible defendants after all evidence is gathered.

Following the incident, a heating ventilation and air conditioning professional conducted an investigation, on behalf of the plaintiffs, to determine the source of the extreme heat.

“That investigation revealed that the hot water coil in the unit had no control valve,” court papers said. “Consequently, the hot water constantly runs in the coil, creating perpetual residual hot air whether the heating/cooling system is turned on or off. The thermostat in the apartment unit only controls the fan blower motor with no temperature-control valve.”

Court papers allege the system was defective by design. Building management would fill the single water coil of the heating/cooling unit with either hot or cold water depending on the time of year and ambient temperature. It was alleged that this created a dangerous situation for senior citizens. This was because the heat could never be turned off in the winter. If the thermostat to the blower was turned to a cooler temperature in the winter, the unit could never reach a lower temperature; only hot air would be come out since the water coil had no thermostat to turn it off.
“Consequently, the heating/cooling system will try to reach a cool set point that it will never obtain because only extremely hot air is pumping from the unit,” court papers said.

According to the BPD report, the thermostat of the blower was set to cool at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, court papers said the heating/cooling investigator found that when the thermostat was set at 40 degrees, the heating element in the system, from which the fan drew warming air, measured 156 degrees Fahrenheit.

The court papers also contain an August 1992 article from The New York Times. It reported that in July 1991, two Felicity Tower residents died of heat exhaustion after the building’s air conditioning was shut down for repairs during a heat wave. A Newark Grand Jury recommended that the Bloomfield mayor and council receive an annual report from the facility.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, John Scura III, also filed court papers on May 3 to allow the plaintiffs access to Felicity Tower to determine the extent of dangerous conditions in the heating/cooling, and emergency call systems. The paper requests immediate repair of either system if a dangerous condition is found. A court hearing is scheduled June 8 to consider these requests.

A telephone call to Felicity Towers was answered by a woman who identified herself as the manager of the facility and said there would be no comment at this time.