Investigation into Fatal Lovejoy Fire

In late January of 2018, a house fire in the Lovejoy area of Buffalo caused the death of a seven-year-old boy. Investigators questioned the boy’s father, Joseph Conti, who admitted that the fire was started because he lit a cigarette with a blowtorch and set it down on a bed on the first floor of the house. Attorney Paul Cambria spoke to WBEN about the case. The full interview is available on the WBEN website.

Potential punishment

WBEN asked Mr. Cambria what the punishment could be if the authorities discovered that a blowtorch did start the fire. “The maximum may be reckless manslaughter,” Mr. Cambria responded. He explained that reckless behavior “means you perceive a danger, you ignore it, [and] you continue to act in that dangerous manner” and went on to say that the charge “could be manslaughter in the second degree, which is a C felony.”

When asked what the prison sentence for a C felony could be, Mr. Cambria told WBEN that the maximum sentence is 15 years. “In addition, if there’s a minor involved, reckless endangerment could be charged, but that’s a very minor charge,” he went on.

Plea deal

Mr. Cambria was asked whether the case might come down to a plea deal based on Conti’s explanation of events when questioned by investigators. “I don’t know exactly everything he said but, if he admits reckless conduct, the District Attorney certainly would have a basis to charge him with reckless manslaughter,” Mr. Cambria responded. “So, it’ll depend upon what the investigation shows and what he said.”

Reckless conduct

WBEN then asked if it would make a difference in the case if the implement were a blowtorch lighter rather than something larger. “There are two parts to that,” Mr. Cambria said. “Number one, the lighters. You have to keep your finger down on them for them to continue to go. A little BernzOmatic torch or something, those stay on. But the question is going to be: was the conduct reckless? In other words, did you perceive a grave danger, did you ignore it and continue your conduct, and did it result in a death? And if all those facts come together, then a person can be charged with reckless manslaughter,” he explained.

About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.

The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.