The owner of the home where a blaze killed five family members trapped in a third floor apartment in November 2021 pleaded guilty yesterday in Riverhead Justice Court to town code violations for not having rental permits.

The homeowner at the time of the fire, Carmela Cannella, who lived in the East Second Street home, was assessed a penalty $500 per violation, for a total of $1,500, according to town court records.

The maximum penalty per violation was $1,000 for a first offense under the town code at the time the town summonses were issued, three weeks before the deadly fire. The penalty for a first offense was increased to $1,500 by an amendment to the code adopted last June. Prior to the amendment the penalty for a first offense was $250 to $1,000.

A fast-moving blaze tore through the three-story historic home at 46 E. Second Street late in the evening of Nov. 16, 2021. Cannella, who lived on the first floor of the home and the occupants of the two apartments on the second floor were able to escape. But the residents of the third-floor apartment were trapped by flames in a front bedroom, where they sought refuge from the flames that engulfed the home. Sonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza, 42, her children, Carlos Cifredo Peñate Rivera, 25, and Andrea Isamar González Rivera, 16, and her nephews, Duglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre, 27, and Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, 24, died of smoke inhalation the Suffolk County Medical Examiner determined. All had suffered “extensive burns,” according to reports released by the Suffolk County Police Department in response to a Freedom of Information Law request filed by RiverheadLOCAL.

Police concluded that the fatal fire was caused by improperly discarded cigarettes outside the three-story, wood-frame home.

The third-floor apartment lacked a second means of egress, according to Suffolk County Police Department reports on its investigation into the tragic fire.

A wrongful death action was brought against the Town of Riverhead and Cannella in February by the estates of Rivera, the tenant, and Ramos, one of her nephews. The action is pending in State Supreme Court, Suffolk County.

Cannella, who did not have insurance on the property, according to town officials, has transferred title to a limited liability company registered with the state to an address in Sag Harbor, according to Suffolk County land title records available online.

The charred remains of the home stood in place on Second Street until mid-October, when the structure was demolished and the land cleared.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Avatar photo
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.