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Emotional words as men charged in marijuana grow house explosion that killed FDNY chief are sentenced

CONCOURSE, The Bronx -- A firefighter lost his life saving the lives of two men who were in court on Friday to learn for their fate for taking his.

Deputy FDNY Chief Michael J. Fahy was a 17-year veteran and a father of three. He was killed in the line of duty while responding to a gas leak in September 2016 at a home that was discovered to be a marijuana grow house. The home exploded and falling debris struck and killed the well-liked fire chief.

Two men who pleaded guilty last month to manslaughter and criminal possession of marijuana charges in relation to the tragedy were sentenced Friday.

Garivaldi Castillo, 33, and Julio Salcedo, 36, were defendants in the unusual hearing. It's rare that someone is held criminally responsible for conditions that cause the death of a New York City firefighter, according to the Bronx District Attorney's Office.

That's one of the reasons why firefighters from the northern Bronx firehouse that Fahy, 44, had led filled a large part of the gallery in the courtroom.

They'd also come to support another fellow firefighter: Lt. Richard Ruebenacker, who had been seriously injured in the Sept. 27, 2016 explosion.

Reubenacker made a statement on the record to the two men responsible for his injuries and for the death of his chief.

"Perhaps things could've ended up differently," Ruebenacker said, reading from a statement. "Perhaps I didn't have to watch my chief die before my very eyes."

Even though he was speaking directly to Castillo and Salcedo, the two men kept their eyes to the front of the courtroom, not making contact with the fire lieutenant who said he's still recovering from internal injuries from the explosion two years ago.

The blast happened after the two men had sealed the second floor of Castillo's home on West 234th Street in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. They'd covered the windows with aluminum sheeting, which prevented natural gas from escaping when there was a leak early that September 2016 morning.

Firefighters responded to a 911 call of a gas leak and they evacuated residents, including Salcedo. However, the gas built up on the second floor before it could be shut off and it blew up with fatal consequences.

"We all ended up losing that day," Ruebenacker said, directing his comments to the two defendants. "You two have lost your freedom. I've lost months of my life. The family has lost their loved one."

Fahy's family was present at court to hear the sentences that they had worked with the district attorney's office to negotiate.

Both men pleaded guilty last month to charges of second-degree manslaughter and first-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

Castillo was sentenced to two to six years in prison for the manslaughter charge and five years on the marijuana charge. Salcedo was sentenced to one to three years in prison for the manslaughter charge and four years for the marijuana charge. All of the sentences will run concurrently.

Before the judge read the sentences and sent the men off to begin serving their terms, Castillo made an on-the-record apology, through a translator.

"I want to say, from the bottom of my heart," Castillo said, "I didn't want this to happen."

Salcedo also had an apology, which he'd written in a letter that he'd told his attorney he was "too overcome with emotion" to read aloud. His attorney read it for him.

"Chief Fahy is my hero," his lawyer Dawn Florio read. "He saved my life. If it wasn't for the members of the FDNY, I would not be here to live a productive life. I promise all those affected that I will be productive. I want to do community service."

Despite the repentant nature of the men's statements, Fahy's fellow firefighters made clear that no apology could suffice.

"The city lost a hero on Sept. 27," Ruebenacker said, referring to the fateful day two years ago, "and in exchange, we saved you. New York City was certainly on the losing end of that deal."