Douglaston arson victims speak out

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For three years, one Douglaston woman has had to scour garage sales to find items that resembled lost family mementos and flip through borrowed pictures of her children as infants.

The tangible history of her life with her husband, son and daughter was destroyed May 30, 1998 when six teens spent that particular Saturday night targeting and then blowing up the family’s 71st Avenue co-op.

“The biggest thing for me was just getting pictures back,” the woman said as she flipped through a pile of family photographs given to her after the fire by relatives and friends. “Or if I see something that we once had, I have to buy it.”

The family, whose names are being withheld by the TimesLedger, chose to speak out about their ordeal this week after the six teens pleaded guilty last month to charges of attempted arson.

The guilty pleas brought an uneasy end to a three-year ordeal that left the family homeless, debt-ridden and bewildered as to why they were singled out in the first place.

“We spent six months without a home,” the woman said of the period after the explosion during which the family of four rented a one-bedroom co-op in their development while their home was being rebuilt. The family has lived in Douglaston for nearly 20 years, she said.

The family had spent the day of the explosion at a bar mitzvah, the mother said. Later that night her husband and daughter stayed home while she went to pick up her teenage son, who was out with friends.

During the 10 minutes it took her to retrieve her son, pick up some fast food for dinner and head back home, her home was blown up.

“The only good thing was that they didn’t die,” the woman said of her husband and daughter, who were home at the time of the explosion and who escaped with the help of an alert neighbor. “There really was nothing left - no clothes, no place to sleep. Every little thing you could think of was gone.”

Beginning in August Audrey Maroti, 20, Demetrios Cherpelis, 20, and Paul Nardozi, 24, of Little Neck along with Constantin Kalloudis, 19, and Leonard Stein, 20, of Douglaston and Angel Dancuart, 21, of Bayside are to be sentenced on charges of attempted arson for the crime in which the teens placed an M-80 taped to an aerosol can on the window ledge of the apartment. The six pleaded guilty on July 18.

According to the complaint filed in Queens County Criminal Court at the time of their arrest in May 2001, the six said they eventually chose the 71st Avenue home because one of the residents was gay.

The mother, who said her son was dating a popular female classmate at the time of the incident, said there was no reason for the teens’ actions.

“Even if he was gay — did he do anything to them? Why would you do that?” she said. “There’s got to be some reason — people just don’t burn down people’s homes.”

The explosion and resulting fire decimated the front of the home, she said, leaving nothing salvageable in the daughter’s bedroom or the kitchen and making the home unlivable.

Looking around the now immaculate, comfortable-looking front room where the explosive went off, the woman said “there wasn’t a stud here that wasn’t replaced.”

The rebuilding period was difficult for the family, who had to bear the physical, financial and emotional scars of the incident, according to the woman. She credited neighbors, friends, the congregation of Temple Beth Sholom in Flushing and the efforts of the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck for helping the family survive with donated food, clothes and household items.

“As a parent, how do I protect my children? How could I be a provider?” she said. “How do I tell them not to be angry?”

According to the Queens district attorney’s office, five of the six defendants could face jail sentences of two years or less when they are back in court later this month and in early September.

Dancuart may be sentenced to two to seven years in jail, a DA spokeswoman said, because he was the one who lit the explosive.

The sentences, as well as the $125,000 in total restitution the victims will be forced to pay, are part of a plea deal worked out with the DA’s office, the spokeswoman said.

The Douglaston family said they have already used available financial resources — retirement accounts, their children’s college funds, life insurance policies — just to pay bills incurred in the explosion.

“We’ve already used everything for the future,” the Douglaston woman said. “$125,000 probably sounds like a pretty good deal, but it will barely pay off our debt.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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