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Boro worker still in coma after fire in SJU building

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An electrical worker whose face and chest were severely burned by a flash fire that broke out in the basement of a St. John's University dormitory on June 5 has been in a medically induced coma ever since the incident, said a lawyer representing the worker.

According to Jody Fisher, a spokesman for St. John's University, Patrick Kelly of Queens and another electrical worker were hired to install electrical equipment to improve cell phone reception. They were working side-by-side in a storage utility room in the basement of Hollis Hall on June 5 at around 2 p.m. when sparks from a hand-held tool that Kelly was using fell into a bucket filled with a type of glue substance, causing a flash fire.

Kelly was taken to the burn unit at Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where he was still in a medically induced coma Tuesday.

"He has third-degree burns all over his face, arms, chest," said Howard Klar, a lawyer at the Manhattan firm Motola, Klar, Dinowitz and Carfora, who was hired by Kelly's brother. "He has undergone one or two skin grafts and he's still in a medically induced coma."

Klar said Kelly's family was exploring the possibility of a lawsuit once they figure out exactly what happened.

"They could sue somebody for not providing the gentleman with a safe place to work or putting him in danger by making him use equipment and chemicals in an improper way," said Klar.

A representative of Highland Construction Co., the Rockland County contracting company that employed Kelly, said the company did not want to discuss the incident.

About 60 firemen responded to the fire June 5, said Sean Johnson, a spokesman for the Fire Department. The fire was brought under control within 10 minutes.

At the time of the fire, the dormitory was closed to students for the summer and occupied only by a person at the front desk, one or two other university employees and the electrical workers, said Fisher.

Fisher said he did not know what the glue-like substance was and had no further information about the fire.

"Obviously, we're very saddened by (the injury) and wish that it hadn't happened," Fisher said.

Klar said he was planning on speaking to the other worker who was with Kelly at the time of the fire and to St. John's University officials to try to get a clearer picture of what happened.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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