Woman killed in dairy truck blaze

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The burned-out shell of a truck trailer was all that was left after a fire claimed a life in South Jamaica shortly before 6 a.m. Saturday.

Accounts vary as to who exactly the person was who died in the blaze, but the NYPD said firefighters pulled the lifeless body of a black, 47-year-old woman from the trailer once the fire was extinguished. The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

The trailer was one of several owned by Elmhurst Dairy and kept in a yard at the corner of South Road and 157th Street, bordered on the east by the Long Island Rail Road’s Far Rockaway Branch. George McGrath, a spokesman for the dairy, said the locked trailers are used to store empty milk crates when not in use. They are not, he said, used to transport milk.

Witnesses on the scene formed a consensus that the trailer was occupied by three homeless drug addicts, at least one of whom was a prostitute. McGrath said the dairy was aware people were living in the trailers and that it was an ongoing problem they were trying to deal with.

Joe Tarascil, owner of the Joe Able Fence Co., said he was often called to repair a hole in the southeast corner of the fence through which the vagrants would sneak in in order to avoid detection by a security guard on the other side of South Road.

“It’s terrible. I remember that woman, I chased her out of the trailer,” said Tarascil, who said he thought the trailer was occupied by one white woman and two black men, all in their 30s. ”I try to be sensible when I chase them out. I only do it when I have workers with me.”

He said the dairy does not lock the trucks and that the area has long had a persistent problem with the homeless, drugs and crime.

“It’s South Jamaica. You’re gonna have this problem,” he said. “This is gonna go on for years until they really close it up.”

Robert Williams opened his tire shop next to the lot only two weeks ago, and he said the neighborhood called it “Trump Plaza” where the area’s homeless would live and cook their food. He said he had a five-minute conversation with a cross-dressing male, whom he believed died in the fire.

“It was definitely him,” he said. “South Road is popular for prostitutes. I guess that was his motive. He’d do that and then go get his hit from the projects.”

Williams said the South Jamaica Houses on the other side of the railroad tracks is infamous as a place to buy drugs.

“It’s a hard life, but you choose that role,” he said.

Tarascil said he sees the same sad situation at lots across the neighborhood.

“They might have a distant cousin or uncle looking for them. They don’t know if they’re living or dying,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 11:59 am, October 12, 2011
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