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Culkin's mother faces trial in fire deaths



Published: Sun, February 10, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Culkin's mother facestrial in fire deaths

NEW YORK -- A Manhattan judge says the mother of actor Macaulay Culkin must go to trial to defend herself against lawsuits filed after a fire that started in her apartment damaged property and killed four people.

State Supreme Court Justice Paula Omansky, in a ruling made public Thursday that applies to eight lawsuits, refused to dismiss the cases against Culkin's mother, Patricia Bentrup, and the 51-story building's managers and owners.

The lawsuits seek hundreds of millions of dollars for wrongful death, personal injuries and property damage caused by a December 1998 fire in one of the three 19th-floor apartments where Bentrup and six of her seven children lived.

Her son, Macaulay, star of the "Home Alone" movies, was not there.

Fire officials said the fire was ignited by a short circuit in a wire in a wall-mounted heater. They also said that the door to the apartment in which the fire started had been propped open, allowing air to feed the blaze.

The heat and smoke that filled the building killed four people, including Wanda Chappell, 40, a Random House editor who oversaw the publication of biographies by Secretary of State Colin Powell and actor Christopher Reeve.

In her motion to dismiss, Bentrup admitted that she often propped the doors open. The judge said a jury should decide whether Bentrup should be held responsible for the resulting spread of the fire.

In refusing to dismiss the lawsuit filed against Park South Tower Associates, the managers and owners, Omansky said, "Abundant evidence supports a finding that Park South was aware of Bentrup's long-standing practice of propping open the fire-rated doors to her apartments."

The judge granted the motion to dismiss the case against the building's construction manager, Lehrer McGovern Bovis. She accepted the argument that it had no role in the design of the building or its ventilation system. Lawyers and spokespeople in the case did not return calls for comment.

Lewis will moveVegas show to NYC

Jerry Lewis is returning to Broadway for the first time since his successful run in 1996's "Damn Yankees." Lewis, who canceled a March appearance at Madison Square Garden because of ill health, is due to transplant his Vegas show to a New York theater early next year, the New York Daily News reported. The 77-year-old funnyman, who'll work clips from his movies into the act, is also ready to write a book about his years with Dean Martin.

Former pop starto be in Playboy

LOS ANGELES -- Former teen pop star Tiffany plans to show she's all grown-up with a pictorial in the April issue of Playboy magazine.

"I became aware that the world still views me as the 15-year-old performer I once was," the 30-year-old said. "I view my appearance in Playboy as the first step in presenting myself to the world as I am."

However, the shapely figure she shows off in the magazine isn't all natural. The singer has had breast-augmentation surgery, her publicist said this week.

The 1980s pop star, best known for the songs "I Think We're Alone Now" and "Could've Been," is married and the mother of an 8-year-old son. In 2000, she released "The Color of Silence," her first U.S. album in 10 years.

Tiffany reached the peak of her career in her teen-age years after becoming a surprise hit singing at county fairs and shopping malls across the nation. She scored two No. 1 singles from her 1987 debut album, "Tiffany," and her second album, "Hold an Old Friend's Hand," went double-platinum.

Today's birthdays

Opera singer Leontyne Price is 75. Movie composer Jerry Goldsmith is 73. Actor Robert Wagner is 72. Singer Roberta Flack is 63. Singer Jimmy Merchant (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) is 62. Olympic gold-medal swimmer Mark Spitz is 52. Actress Kathleen Beller is 47. Country singer Lionel Cartwright is 42. Former presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos is 41. Actress Laura Dern is 35. Country singer Dude Mowrey is 30. Pop singer Rosanna Taverez (Eden's Crush) is 25.




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