NEWARK (PIX11) — A lawsuit filed by the families of two firefighters who died in a blaze on a cargo ship contains new evidence the families say proves negligence by the ship’s owner caused their loved ones’ deaths.
Newark firefighters Wayne Brooks, Jr., and Augusto “Augie” Acabou were killed in the July 5 fire onboard the ship Grande Costa D’Avorio.
The legal action filed by their families claims that the use of a faulty Jeep Wrangler onboard the vessel caused the fire. It also claims that the ship’s crewmembers neglected to properly use their training in fire suppression.
At a news conference across the street from the firefighters’ station house here, Acabou’s mother, Maria, was in tears, recalling the life of her son. The tears and anguish also showed on the face of Michelle Brooks, the widow of the other fallen firefighter.
“Wayne, I love you deeply,” the widow said, “and we’ll pursue justice in your memory.”
The family’s lead attorney said that in the three months since the tragedy in Port Newark, his firm’s investigators have been able to interview at least 20 crewmembers from the ship. Those under-oath interviews, called depositions, have revealed shocking details.
“The men loading the ship were using a Jeep Wrangler to push cargo upon the ship,” said Mark Apostolos, the lead attorney for the family. “Those men continued to use the Jeep Wrangler,” he continued, “until it started ablaze.”
After the fire started, the attorney said, the ship’s fire suppression system, which blasts carbon dioxide onto the ship’s decks, depriving the fire of the oxygen that fuels it, was wrongly deployed by the ship’s trained crews.
“If you have a door open, you’re going to let oxygen continue to flow in, and that’s what happened here,” said Apostles. “It’s why the CO-2 system didn’t work.”
He said that the crew “failed in multiple different ways to put this fire out.”
The lawsuit is against ship owner Grimaldi Group, and operators AMS and Ports America, as well as the City of Newark.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said, in a statement “I know the families of our two fallen Newark Firefighters, Augusto Acabou and Wayne Brooks, Jr., want and need answers and resolutions so that they can make some kind of sense out of their loss. The city wants the same thing. We trust that the investigators are completing their process as quickly and expeditiously as possible while maintaining the integrity of their examination and analysis. It’s my deep hope that this investigation will yield the information the families need for healing and that the answers will benefit all firefighters in Newark, and everywhere.”
The suit was filed on Firefighter Acabou’s birthday.
His brothers were at the midday news conference. One of them, Miguel Acabou, spoke about the family’s grief.
“There’s no words, there’s no words,” he said. “He turns 46 today. This is our first year without him, and our family’s been devastated.”
The attorneys for the families said that it is too soon to determine what level of financial compensation they will seek. They did say, though, that the vessel’s owner, Grimaldi Group, has tried to cap the assessed value of the ship, at $15.5 million. That cap can limit the level of damages that the families can seek, according to their attorneys. The lawyers said they are fighting that cap.
None of the corporations named in the legal filing Grimaldi Group, AMS, or Ports America responded to PIX11 News requests for comment.