Portland landlord faces manslaughter charges from 2014 fire

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PORTLAND — The attorney representing the Noyes Street landlord charged with six counts of manslaughter Tuesday said the indictments were not a surprise.

“Honestly, I am disappointed for the victim’s families and (Greg) Nisbet,” Matt Nichols said. “This just prolongs it.”

Nisbet, 49, of 124 Noyes St., was indicted July 10 by a Cumberland County grand jury on Class A manslaughter charges and four Class E life safety code violations stemming from the Nov. 1, 2014, fire at his 20-24 Noyes St. property.

“The deaths of the young folks remain devastating to Greg,” Nichols said.

Indictments are not a finding of guilt or innocence; they are a determination there is enough evidence to take a case to trial. Class A manslaughter charges carry a maximum 30-year sentence. Class E charges carry a maximum of sentence of six months.

The fire killed residents David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; and Nicole Finlay, 26; as well as visitors Maelisha Jackson, 23; Christopher Conlee, 25; and Steven Summers, 29.

All but Summers died of smoke inhalation at the scene, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Summers died Nov. 4 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston from burns he received.

He escaped the blaze through a second story window, but was burned on 98 percent of his body, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed in December 2014 by his widow, Ashley Summers.

The indictments came after District Attorney Stephanie Anderson and attorneys from the state attorney general’s office tried to reach a plea deal with Nisbet.

A press release from Anderson said Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Robert Ellis and Assistant Attorney General Matthew Crockett presented the case to the grand jury together. It will be the state’s role to prosecute the manslaughter charges.

Prosecutors have been using evidence gathered by the state fire marshal’s office for its report on the cause of the fire, and Anderson said Monday the full report will remain confidential at least until the case is settled.

“The report is not a public record,” she said. “It is protected as investigative material.”

In a January press conference, Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said the fire started because of an improperly disposed of cigarette on the front porch, then quickly spread because the front door had been left open.

The code violation charges include failure to provide a secondary means of escape in the third-floor rooms where Thomas and Finlay died; a second-floor stairway that was blocked by a bookcase, and failure to provide working alarms and smoke detectors.

Nisbet also faces $11 million in wrongful death suits filed by families of the victims, and was cited by the city for other code violations in properties he owns at 186 Dartmouth St. In March, District Court Judge Paul Eggert ordered Nisbet to install a sprinkler, repair electrical systems and ensure smoke detectors were in working order before renting the house.

Nisbet had moved to evict former Dartmouth Street tenants. They left after reaching an agreement in District Court in January.

Ashley Summers announced July 11 she is also leading a fundraising effort to memorialize the fire victims.

Summers has established a Go Fund Me website to raise $10,000 for a “Stars of Light” installation created by Portland artist Pandora LaCasse. The work would be unveiled in Longfellow Park, about half a block away from the fire scene, on Nov. 1, the first anniversary of the deadly blaze.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.