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Mother of woman killed in high-rise fire sues building management

A fire high rise happened 3am. Shantel McCoy died  fire 3130 N. Lakeshore Drive.  Chicago Sun-Times

A fire in high rise happened at 3am. Shantel McCoy died in the fire at 3130 N. Lakeshore Drive. Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 17, 2012 8:59PM

The mother of a 32-year-old woman killed in a lakefront high-rise apartment blaze earlier this month has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against building management, saying her daughter would be alive today had a sprinkler system been in place to douse the flames.

JoAnn McCoy, whose daughter Shantel perished in the Jan. 8 fire, also claims building management “failed ... to warn [the victim] of a fire” and “allowed [the victim] to use the elevators when defendant knew or should have known it was not safe to do so.”

Early the morning of Jan. 8, Shantel McCoy was returning home to her apartment building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Drive — takeout food in hand — and boarded the elevator to the 12th floor unaware that a neighboring apartment had caught fire.

When the elevator door opened on the 12th floor, McCoy was hit by a wall of heat as high as 1,500 degrees, fire officials told the Sun-Times. One breath would have been enough to kill her, officials said.

Messages left for representatives at 3130 N. Lake Shore LLC and Planned Property Management Inc. were not returned early Tuesday night.

The 21-story building wasn’t equipped with a sprinkler system. Nor did it have a hard-wired alarm or communications system to disable elevators and alert residents of the roughly 300 apartments.

The building is one of 759 pre-1975 residential high-rises exempt from the sprinkler requirement that were supposed to make other, less-costly life safety improvements by Jan. 1.

But fire officials told the Sun-Times another issue may have played a role in the deadly blaze: A door to the 12th floor apartment where the fire started had been propped open by a fleeing couple because their cat refused to leave.

The couple’s decision to use a rug to prop open the door apparently doomed Shantel McCoy as she made her way home.

Had the door been closed, the fire would almost certainly have been contained to the unit where the fire originated until responding firefighters had a chance to arrive on the scene and make it up to the 12th floor, Deputy District Fire Chief Joseph Roccasalva said at the time.

Automatic door closures on units leading to a common corridor have been required in Chicago buildings at least four stories tall since 1957. The 21-story building at 3130 N. Lake Shore Dr. was equipped with them, but the fleeing couple told fire investigators they propped their door open, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said.

Shantel McCoy, who died of carbon monoxide intoxication and inhalation of smoke and soot, apparently had no chance.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

JoAnn McCoy’s legal counsel says the names of the couple haven’t been released in publicly available law enforcement reports, and he doesn’t know their names.

“We don’t have their names, but I assure you as soon as we do they are going to be named as defendants in this case,” Joseph Curcio, an attorney for JoAnn McCoy, told the Sun-Times

A Philadelphia native, Shantel McCoy had come to Chicago in March to pursue her career in marketing, her mother said last week. Shantel McCoy worked for Wirtz Beverage Group here as a sales coordinator and analyst.

The family is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

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