FDNY, family don’t agree on how Rich Hill man died

A Richmond Hill building on 124th Street is surrounded by plywood fence. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Fire officials have concluded a 40-year-old handyman living in the basement of a Richmond Hill building intentionally set fires that led to his death, but the man’s relatives said they do not believe the findings.

“That is absolutely not true,” said his cousin Marisa Ramdass, who said she thought of Chamanlall Mukhlall like a brother. “They are trying to cover up. They are trying to do things the easy way.”

Officials said when emergency responders arrived at 87-40 124th St. Oct. 12, they found a badly burned Mukhlall and took him to Nassau University Medical Center in serious condition. Two other people were brought to Jamaica Hospital with minor injuries, the Fire Department said.

Ramdass said her cousin told EMTs that there was an explosion, but he did not know what happened.

Fire marshals believe small fires were deliberately set by Mukhlall and led to the explosion that killed him, according to an FDNY spokesman.

“How could they come up with that?” Ramdass asked. “Everybody else who knows him knows that is not true.”

Mukhlall, who was known to loved ones as “Ako” and would have turned 41 this month, died Oct. 15, his family said.

Ramdass said her cousin had moved into one of two apartments in the building’s basement four or five months ago and did odd jobs for the landlord. The other was occupied by four male college students, his family said.

“He built my whole store for me,” she said of her liquor store. “Whatever you needed done he would be able to do it.”

Hours before he was killed Mukhlall had been spending time with Ramdass and her husband in the shop, where he had built a closet that afternoon.

“He was so proud of the work he did,” she said.

At midnight, Ramdass closed up and said good night to Mukhlall, who was walking home.

“That was the last we heard,” she said. “The next phone call we got he was in the hospital.”

When her husband went to see him, Mukhlall, who suffered second- and third-degree burns, had tried unsuccessfully to say something but was unable to with tubes running down his throat, and the handyman died several days later.

“Everyone in the community donated money, and that money covered his viewing and his funeral expenses,” Ramdass said.

She said the family was still looking for answers about what happened and pointed out that her cousin was due to receive a settlement after he was injured in a car accident.

“When you are going to collect a certain amount of money, why would you put yourself on fire?” she said.

Ramdass also said the landlord did not contact Mukhlall’s relatives after his death.

“Somebody died in your building,” she said. “Wouldn’t you go to the family and say, ‘I’m so sorry?’” This man did not even do that.”

The four-unit house had been illegally converted to add two additional apartments, according to the city Department of Buildings.

A spokeswoman for the DOB said in October that the owner agreed to comply with an agency order to take down the three-story residence. A permit for the demolition was issued Nov. 21, but on Wednesday morning the structure remained intact and a plywood fence surrounded the property.

The landlord could not be reached for comment.

Reach Managing Editor Christina Santucci by phone at 718-260-4589 or by email at

Posted 12:00 am, December 16, 2013
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Reader feedback

Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
Sorry, how can I believe people's statements when they are living in an illegal apartment. Yes, they would have more knowledge than the fire officials. And just exactly what would the fire officials trying to be covering up.

If anything, the slumlord and the people living their illegally would be attempting to cover up something.

You are lucky that no one else was killed in this deathtrap.

Dec. 16, 2013, 6:51 am
Julia Delgado from Queens says:
Almost every house in Richmond hill there are illegal apartments landlords please open your eyes innocent people can get killed .As far as this gentleman who died r.i.p but small sets of fires and the picture of the house shows like an explosion happened not a fire so I can understand why the concern. My opinion the family should get another investigator out there and that's no landlord that's a slumlord !
Dec. 16, 2013, 7:59 pm
Jaspreet Singh from Richmond hill says:
Where got burnt?
Dec. 16, 2013, 8:05 pm
Anonymous from Richmond hill says:
In one paragraph of the story it says he set the fires which led to an explosion which killed him and in a later paragraph it says hours before he was killed.What is really going on here? I really think the family should investigate.
Dec. 16, 2013, 9:27 pm
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
There is no conspiracy here. An explosion happened after the fire, that is what happens, there is a fire in a house and then an explosion, common sense.

Cover up, what the hell are they trying to cover up. This was an illegal dwelling, a slumlord who did not care. This kind of crap happens all the time with these illegal apartments.

Bottom line, you live in an illegal apartment, which they are not safe and crap like this happens. BOTTOM LINE. That is the risk you take.
Dec. 17, 2013, 5:40 am
The neighbor from Richmond hill says:
Joe you need to see the house and then share your opinion I was there since the block heard the loud explosion the freaking house blew apart common sense for that type of explosion there is no way small sets if fire will cause that it got to be some type of gas leak my dude anyone in this block can say that dude who died was good peeps no way he did that —— get real joe u sound like you work for fire dept mad defensive u had to be there to actually no what happen . Rip Ako you was a good man 123 miss you son
Dec. 17, 2013, 12:51 pm
Carlos Hernandez from Jamaica says:
Joe morreti the article states fire Marshall's said he deliberately set fire and you're getting of about illegal apartment and when you live in illegal apartments this is what happens if you had any common sense you will know illegal or not that can happen anywhere so before you judge a situation think about it and thank god no one else was hurt sorry for the person who loss his life
Dec. 17, 2013, 1:17 pm
Joe Moretti from Jamaica says:
The article stated the individual set small fires, I did not state that nor did I made any comment about that. Of course a fire, no matter how small, can cause an explosion in a house and when you have an illegal apartment like this one and a slumlord, you can have faulty wiring, a gas leak, if the individual was a handy man, there could be flameable materials.

An illegal apartment is more likely to have a fire than an illegal one due to neglect by slumlords who own these and the number of people who live in them and the many various violations that you encounter with illegal apartments like faulty wiring, etc.

What are some of you people getting so defensive for. The place was an ILLEGAL apartment, a big problem here in Queens.
Dec. 18, 2013, 6:08 am

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