‘There are no winners here’: Noyes Street landlord sentenced to 90 days over deadly fire

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. A lot happened today.

What we’re talking about

Gregory Nisbet speaks during his sentencing hearing on Thursday in Portland. Nisbet was convicted of a housing code violation in the case of Maine’s deadliest fire in decades and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN )

Gregory Nisbet speaks during his sentencing hearing on Thursday in Portland. Nisbet was convicted of a housing code violation in the case of Maine’s deadliest fire in decades and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN )

Jake Bleiberg and Troy R. Bennett today covered the sentencing of Portland landlord Gregory Nisbet, who in October was convicted of one housing code violation over the 2014 Noyes Street fire that claimed the lives of six people — but acquitted on the more serious manslaughter charges, and other misdemeanors.

Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren sentenced him to serve 90 days in jail — half of the maximum — and pay a fine of $1,000. He has 21 days to appeal the sentencing.

Jake writes:

In his first statement during the court proceedings, Nisbet said that he has been stricken with grief since the night of the fire but knows that his sorrow can’t compare with that of the victims’ families.

“There are no winners here. Nothing will wipe the memory of this tragedy from my mind for as long as I live,” he said prior to the sentencing. “My only hope is that somehow, some way, lives will be saved from the awareness we have all received from this tragic event.” …

[You can watch the video of Nisbet’s entire statement here.]

During the hearing, defense attorney Matthew Nichols called for leniency. Nisbet’s building was merely one of many old Portland homes that were built before the creation of modern building safety codes, Nichols said. He noted the wide press attention to the case and changes in Portland’s housing safety policy as evidence that a jail sentence was not required to deter similar cases.

Two years before the fire, a Portland building inspector responded to a complaint of an illegal dwelling on the third floor of the Noyes Street home, but he never entered the building, according to court testimony.

State prosecutor Bud Ellis and Lisa Leconte-Mazziotti, Finlay’s mother, had asked the judge to give Nisbet the maximum possible jail sentence: six months. Leconte-Mazziotti said the days since her only child’s death have been a “living hell,” and she called for harsh punishment of Nisbet to put other landlords on notice.

“I’ll never understand how a landlord could play tennis while their apartment house was burning and not even know if their tenants made it out OK,” said Leconte-Mazziotti. “Landlords who knowingly allow these conditions to exist are going to kill somebody’s daughter, or son or loved one.”

Warren was not persuaded by the suggestion that Nisbet acted callously in the immediate aftermath of the fire and said that the landlord’s grief and regret seemed sincere.

After the sentence, Ellis said that he believes that 90 days in jail sends a strong message to Maine landlords who have followed the case anxiously. Prosecutors contended during the weeklong trial that Nisbet was criminally responsible for all six deaths and that he should not have allowed residents to live on the third floor. A manslaughter conviction would have set dramatic new precedent in Maine landlord-tenant law.

Ashley Summers, the widow of Steven Summers, expressed disappointment that Nisbet didn’t get the maximum sentence. Watching her two young daughters grow and flourish since their father’s death has sometimes been painful, Ashley Summers said. She can’t stop thinking of the joy they would have brought their dad.

“I’m doing time my whole life,” she said.

In other news

Device used in thousands of heart surgeries in Maine is linked to a rare infection — Jackie Farwell reports:

A rare, dangerous infection linked to a device commonly used in heart surgeries has prompted hospitals — including Maine’s two largest — to gauge the risks for thousands of past patients, at the urging of federal regulators.

Maine Medical Center in Portland said it is notifying more than 4,000 patients about the risk of the bacterial infection. Patients who have undergone open heart surgery at MMC over the last five years are potentially at risk.

MMC has seen no cases of the bacterial infection among its patients and stressed that the risk is low. But the hospital plans to issue the notices this week in accordance with federal recommendations.

Portland tree guy represented by city councilor, pleads not guilty The Portland man who dressed up as a tree and plodded through a busy city intersection is being represented by City Councilor and environmental lawyer Jon Hinck, who on Thursday filed a not-guilty plea on his client’s behalf.

These old and new Mainers are finding common ground in each other’s language — Troy Bennett went to a meetup on Wednesday evening on St. John Street for Mainers — both old and new — who speak French.  

Native English speakers — mostly white folks from around here — were paired-up with native French speakers, who were mostly new Mainers from places like Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All participants took turns speaking in both languages. Linguistic skill levels ranged from expert to spotty. Pens and paper, along with hand gestures, were deployed where vocabularies failed.

First Friday Art Walk, holiday edition — Tomorrow may be the last Friday night you’ll want to gallery hop through the city sans hats, scarves and gloves for a spell. (This is what The County looks like right now.) It’s still technically fall and the copper beech is getting lit outside the Portland Museum of Art, The Victorian Nutcracker takes over the Portland Public Library windows, the MECA holiday sale is on and (most) Portlanders are full of good cheer. First Friday Art Walk is from 5 to 8 p.m. in the arts district. Free.

Watch his video here.

The Big Idea

The forces pulling apart the lives of Maine’s loggers — In the second part of the Maine Focus team’s series on a changing rural Maine, Adanya Lustig’s story begins with the last logger working in Oxbow:

In the logging industry, distance to market can mean the difference between survival and shutting down. And in Oxbow, Sherman has found himself in a telling role: He is the last person in the small Aroostook County community to make a living from the woods.

People settled the plantation at the edge of the North Maine Woods because of the vast resource. But today, 90 miles from the nearest paper mill, its place as a home for loggers will end when Sherman, 60, decides to quit.

One-man logging operations elsewhere in northern Maine have found themselves in similar circumstances: The growing distance to markets for wood, falling prices, and the scale of operation required to cut from large tracts of land have made their livelihoods tenuous. Today, it’s somewhat easier to make a living with a chainsaw and skidder in the woods in southern Maine.

Read her full story here.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.