Ruling: Butts out in House of Hope


By Peter H. Milliken


Smoking is banned inside the House of Hope group home, and the home’s basement, where two fires were set last month, is to remain locked and off- limits to residents, a magistrate ruled.

Magistrate Daniel P. Dascenzo of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ruled from the bench after a court hearing Friday.

Although he imposed those conditions on the home’s operation, Dascenzo overruled a motion by Lisa M. Eschbacher, an assistant Ohio attorney general, to close the home for mentally disabled adults at 115 Illinois Ave. on the city’s North Side.

The home’s 41 residents must turn over all smoking materials to staff, who will keep the materials in a locked cabinet, with only staff allowed to distribute and light cigarettes for residents, Dascenzo ruled.

“You will establish a smoking area for residents and staff outside of the facility, a safe distance away” from the building, Dascenzo told Charlene Crissman, the home’s administrator.

Dascenzo told her she must continue full compliance with all fire- prevention, alarm, suppression and evacuation requirements of the city fire department.

The state first sought to close the home after a resident, Michael J. Lambert, was found unresponsive in a bathtub there and pronounced dead Nov. 11. The coroner ruled Lambert died of “manual strangulation and homicide.” No arrests have been made in the slaying.

The basement fires occurred in a mattress at 3:54 p.m. June 28, with all residents having been evacuated before firefighters arrived, and in trash in a closet at 7:37 p.m. June 29, with residents being evacuated as firefighters arrived, fire captains testified.

In the first fire, which featured heavy smoke, a second company was called to ventilate the building. The second fire activated the sprinkler system.

“Two fires were set in two days, and this poses an ongoing danger to the residents” and the surrounding community, Eschbacher said, calling HOH staffing and supervision inadequate. “It’s amazing that nobody was injured,” she told the magistrate.

Since the fires, Crissman testified that the man suspected of setting them has been discharged from HOH; the basement has been locked; smoking is banned inside the home; midnight-shift staffing has been increased from two to three people; and two additional entrance security cameras have been added.

No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the fires.

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