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 timesledge
©2013 Community News Group
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