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Man Dies Following Assault at Pittsfield YMCA Apartments

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A 44-year-old man died Sunday after being assaulted in the apartments operated by the Pittsfield Family YMCA.

Joseph Wirtes, 44, was allegedly assaulted by Brian Signor at the apartments Sunday morning. Wirtes was transported to Berkshire Medical Center following the assault and was pronounced dead later that day.

Signor, 27, also of the YMCA's 292 North St. residence, was arraigned on Monday on a single count of aggravated assault and battery, according to the district attorney's office. He pleaded not guilty and is being held at the Berkshire County House of Correction on $50,000 cash or surety bail.

Further charges may be forthcoming, according to the DA, pending the results of an autopsy being conducted on Monday by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Holyoke.

     

FBI: MS-13 Member Arrested In Pittsfield

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — An alleged member of a violent international street gang was arrested Thursday morning in Pittsfield by the FBI.
 
Efrain Vasquez-Yanez has been charged with conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section, the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, and Pittsfield Police took Vasquez-Yanez into custody without incident Thursday. 
 
He was indicted in U.S. District Court in Boston along with 55 others of the La Mara Salvatrucha — or MS-13 — gang in January. Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. But no money will be paid out in this case, according to FBI officials.
 
The 33-year-old Vasquez-Yanez was born in El Salvador and was last seen in July in Everett. The FBI obtained information related to a connection to Pittsfield, which led to his arrest on Thursday.
 
The January indictment issued out of Boston accuses the gang members of various crimes including murder, attempted murder, and drug trafficking. The FBI says Vasquez-Yanez received "homeboy status" within the gang, which the FBI says is granted only to members who commit a murder and or inflict serious physical injury on a person in the name of the gang. He allegedly served as "protection" for interstate transport of cocaine loads. 
 
The FBI's wanted poster said he was considered armed and dangerous.
     

Pittsfield Police Officer Fired for Misconduct

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Pittsfield police officer has been fired for "multiple misconduct charges."

Officer Dale Eason, a 20-year veteran of the force, had been on leave since May after a scuffle with an elderly woman in her home last year.

A terse press release from Chief Michael Wynn said Eason had been terminated on Wednesday after a "lengthy internal investigation and a local civil service hearing."

Eason had arrested Phyllis Stankiewicz, 88, after he and another officer entered her home after being sent to the wrong address for a disturbance. A confused Stankiewicz had allegedly threatened them with a small paring knife and, when disarmed, had slapped Eason on the wrist. Eason then put her on the ground and arrested her. All charges against Stankiewicz were dropped.

"The City of Pittsfield and the Pittsfield Police Department take any and all acts of police misconduct by our personnel extremely seriously. Service as a police officer requires a high degree of public trust. On those rare occasions, as is the case here, that trust is violated, severe sanctions must be imposed," said Wynn in the statement.

     

Pittsfield Warehouse Goes Up in Flames

By Andy McKeever & Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff

Firefighters quickly went on the defensive trying to contain the fire. 
Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 11:53 a.m. 
 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The large fire at the former J.B. Paper warehouse on Monday night may have been caused by squatters or intentionally lit. 
 
Deputy Chief Daniel Garner said on Tuesday that there was no electrical running to the building and gas had been shut off. He said the cause was likely accidental arson or arson.
 
"We can rule out electrical. The electrical that serves this building has been shut off for years. Nobody has any right to be here other than the property owner and they were nowhere near this place. It is either accidental by a squatter or trespasser making a fire inside, doing who knows what. Or it is a malicious intent to start a fire with an open flame. It is either accidental arson or arson," Garner said.
 
Garner said securing the abandoned factory on Elmvale Place has been a challenge over the years. On multiple occasions Police and Fire have attempted to keep up with ensuring the building was secure but only so much could be done to prevent trespassing. 
 
"Buildings are at their most dangerous for fire personnel and the general public when they are being constructed, being demolished, or when they are abandoned. This is not a vacant building because a vacant building is still being maintained to some capacity. This is a condemned, abandoned building, a neglected building. There are various hazards within the building itself. There are unstable walls. It's been noted before that there is unstable flooring inside. It is a derelict property," Garner said. 
 
"Another potential problem is the security of this building. We make a couple trips to this site, monthly, years, but it so hard to keep up with security. Between us, the Fire Department and Police, we try to make sure it is buttoned up and secure but squatters get in here, trespassers who are using it for whatever illicit means."
 
It isn't known if somebody was in the building or not, Garner said, because firefighters have only recently been able to access the structure. As of 10 a.m., some 14 hours after the department received the call, the fire was still smoldering and engine companies continued to douse the building with water. 
 
While the call may have came in at 8 p.m., Garner says the blaze was going well before then. 
 
"It is so far set off of a main thoroughfare, Wahconah Street, and even though you have the Dower Square projects over here, it can burn unchecked for sometime. Especially at 8 o'clock. The sun is down, it is dark, nobody will see smoke for quite some time. The fire had time to grow and intensify. Timeline-wise, it could have started somewhere after 7 o'clock. It could have been a cigarette, it is so much speculation, but it could have been a cigarette smoldering since 5 o'clock last evening and something kicks off," Garner said.
 
"It was heavy fire when we got here so that means it had been burning for quite some time, unless we find multiple points of origin or an accelerant. There are some many plausible scenarios."
 
The flames were heavy when firefighters arrived. Deputy Chief Matthew Noyes, the incident commander, said there was no attempt to fight the fire internally and quickly switched to a defensive attack — going after it from the perimeter instead of conducting searches or interior attacks.
 
"We realized immediately that it had spread rapidly prior to our arrival," he said, adding, "The fire was ahead of us right from the get-go ... Within 10 minutes it had broken through the roof in one spot."
 
Firefighters quickly faced trouble accessing water and the fire grew to a three-alarm. By 9:30 the roofs began to collapse.
 
"Even though we have pre-planned this building for a number of years now and even though we have a branch of the Housatonic here, drafting was not an option due to access to the river and it is so low this year. We had limited hydrant capability. The city Water Department was able to free up a larger volume of water by increasing the volume and the pressure in the Wahconah Street area. At one point we had a shuttle operation with Lanesborough and I believe Cheshire tanker shuttles to get more water to the scene," Garner said.
 
At least eight fire companies helped in combating what Garner said was the biggest fire he's seen in 19 years on the department. Pittsfield, Dalton, Lenox, Richmond, Cheshire, Lanesborough and Hinsdale all arrived on scene - mostly tankers used to shuttle in water — while Adams, Lee and Lanesborough covered the Pittsfield station.
 
"Overall operating on this fireground was our full contingent of on-duty personnel, 18 members. Our backup ladder truck has been out of service for quite some time so we had Dalton's ladder 1 respond right to the scene so we had two ladder trucks operating. We back-filled with a majority of our off-duty firefighters. Apparatus and resourcewise, we needed extra fire engines and another ladder truck to protect the city while we we fighting this fire," Garner said.
 
"We had Adams' Ladder 1 at our headquarters; we had an engine company from Lanesborough; we had an engine company from Lee; we had an engine company from Dalton."
 
With the tankers and extra volume from the hydrants, the department had enough to combat it over night. Two ladder-truck towers — one set up by Pittsfield and the other by Dalton — were attempting to "surround and drown" the flames from above on one side and hoses are also being sprayed on the other side to contain the conflagration. Lines were laid all the way down Elmvale Place from Wahconah Street as well as from a hydrant at Pine Cone Hill, where a gate was opened to allow access to that end of Elmvale.
 
"Everyone on the scene is handling things professionally," Noyes said around 10 p.m. on Monday. "We're getting a lot of out-of-town help  ... They're doing a great job."
 
The flames were so high, they turned the sky orange and lit up the neighborhood. Crowds gathered in the Pine Cone Hill parking lot and on Wahconah street. The glow could be seen for miles. Wahconah Street was closed to through-traffic from Elmvale to Peck's Road. 
 
There are at least six mills or warehouse buildings along Elmvale Place, a small road off Wahconah street and next to Pittsfield Cemetery. The paper company is the last building on the street.
 
"It's a building that's been vacant for years," Noyes said. "We've known this has been coming for years. ... We've been out here a bunch of times to pre-plan it."
 

On Tuesday morning firefighters were still on scene dousing the building with water as the timber construction continued to smolder. 
Garner said every department pre-plans for the worse at what he calls "target hazards." The department had visited the site numerous times to look at access and utilities to have plans in place to respond. 
 
According to documents on file at the Registry of Deeds, the building is held by BM Realty Co., operating as J.B. Paper Co., which lists the late Gerald Binder as principal. Binder had run the paper company, his family business, for more than 50 years. He died in 2009.
 
The building was constructed in 1916. Garner said early reports say the building is not insured. 
 
By midnight, Garner said the fire was under control — though still burning — and the attack was downgraded. The sprawling two-story building is divided into three sections. Garner said firefighters struggled with access to the farther building from the road but that fire is smoldering out on its own.
 
Garner said he doesn't believe there were any hazardous material in the building — which he described as a "ordinary to heavy timber construction" — except what would have soaked into the floorboards.
 
"There were three large portions of the building. Each section had stairs and ramps but there was no sublevel, there is no basement," Garner said.
 
There were no reported injuries. County Ambulance was on scene.
 
The state fire marshal, the Fire Department's investigators, and the Pittsfield Police Department now have access to the building and will begin investigation today. Garner expects firefighters to remain on scene through Tuesday and demolition of some parts of the building will begin. Berkshire Gas was on scene Tuesday morning to shut off the gas line at the road — gas had been shut off to the building but Garner says it needs to be turned off at the street level to allow for demolition. 
 

Update 11:10p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The J.B. Paper Co. on Elmvale Place went up in flames on Monday night.

Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Noyes said there was fire and smoke coming out of the back of the building when firefighters arrived.

"We realized immediately that it had spread rapidly prior to our arrival," he said, adding, "The fire was ahead of us right from the get-go ... within 10 minutes it had broken through the roof in one spot."

He said there was no attempt to enter the building because it was unsafe and that sections began to collapse not longer after arriving.

"It's a building that's been vacant for years," Noyes said. "We've known this has been coming for years. ... We've been out here a bunch of times to pre-plan it."

The call for a second alarm brought in all off-duty firefighters; it went to a third alarm when mutual aid was requested.

Two ladder-truck towers — one set up by Pittsfield and the other by Dalton — were attempting to "surround and drown" the flames from above on one side and hoses are also being sprayed on the other side to contain the conflagration.

There are now at least seven fire companies on scene: Pittsfield, Dalton, Lenox, Richmond, Cheshire, Lanesborough and Hinsdale. Adams is covering the Pittsfield station.

The former paper company was vacant but still had some items inside. Noyes said there was some popping heard but nothing in there was believed to be out of the ordinary for an old mill.

He confirmed that there were initial water supply problems because of the nearby mains, leading to a reliance on tankers early on. Tankers from various Berkshire County fire departments were shuttling in water to fill a portable tank for use in fighting the fire. 

Lines were laid all the way down Elmvale Place from Wahconah Street as well as from a hydrant at Pine Cone Hill, where a gate was opened to allow access to that end of Elmvale.

Workers from the city's Water Department came in to switch valves to ensure that water was flowing where it was needed.

"We now have adequate water to do what we're doing," Noyes said.

The cause of the fire won't be known for some time, if ever. State fire investigators were expected to arrive on Tuesday.


Tankers from various Berkshire County fire departments shuttled water to the scene to help combat the blaze.

For now, firefighters are continuing their defensive posture and keeping a collapse perimeter as a safety precaution since sections of the 1916 mill have already dropped.

"Everyone on the scene is handling things professionally," Noyes said. "We're getting a lot of out-of-town help  ... they're doing a great job."

There were no reported injuries but firefighters were going to be working through the night. County Ambulance was on scene.

"I expect we'll be here at least all night if not into the day tomorrow," Noyes said.

The initial two-alarm fire was reported at about 8 p.m. at the century-old building. By 9:30, the roof on the building was caving in.

There are at least six mills or warehouse buildings along Elmvale Place, a small road off Wahconah street and next to Pittsfield Cemetery. The paper company is the last building on the street.

The flames were so high, they turned the sky orange and lit up the neighborhood. Crowds gathered in the Pine Cone Hill parking lot and on Wahconah street. The glow could be seen for miles. 

Wahconah Street is closed to through traffic from Elmvale to Peck's Road. There are a lot of firetrucks in the area so avoid it possible. Heavy smoke is also filling the neighborhood.

According to documents on file at the Registry of Deeds, building is held by BM Realty Co., operating as J.B. Paper Co., which lists the late Gerald Binder as principal. Binder had run the paper company, his family business, for more than 50 years. He died in 2009.

     

Pittsfield Investigating Apparent Homicide

Staff Reports
Update at 5:30 p.m., Monday:
 
Dr. Mindy Hull, an associate medical examiner for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, conducted the autopsy on 38-year-old Joseph Brown on Monday in Boston. Dr. Hull's preliminary results ruled the manner of death as a homicide from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A city man was shot dead early Sunday morning, according to the district attorney's office.

The body of Joseph Brown, 38, of Pittsfield was found in his driveway at 343 Columbus Ave. at about 2 a.m. Sunday after 911 call reporting a man down.
 
District Attorney David Capeless' office said Brown appeared to have died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
 
"The body was removed from the scene by the office of the chief medical examiner and was transported to the Boston office, where an autopsy will be conducted tomorrow," reads a statement from the office.
 
Police are investigating the shooting as an apparent homicide and are asking anyone with any information to contact the department at 413-448-9700. 
 
The investigation is being conducted by members of the Pittsfield Police Department, assisted by the Berkshire detective unit of the State Police assigned to the district attorney's office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force and the Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services Section.
     
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