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A Colombian-born movie makeup artist, her husband and son were killed Sunday when a suspicious fire broke out on the second and third floors of a Middle Village apartment building, forcing some tenants to jump out of windows to escape the flames.
Law enforcement sources at the scene said the blaze had been started with flammable liquid and that the incident had become a homicide investigation, the New York Post reported.
A deli owner and night watchman doused the victims with water. Five residents and six firefighters were injured in
Heriberto Garcia, 68, and his wife, Flor Sandoval, 48, and son, Felipe Garcia, 20, all of whom lived at 66-78 69th St. in Middle Village, were pronounced dead at New York Hospital Cornell following the fire. The parents had moved to the United States from Colombia and Sandoval had worked as a makeup artist on 2004's Oscar-nominated film "Maria Full of Grace."
Jackson Heights resident Orlando Tobon, who had acted in "Maria Full of Grace," said Sandoval's brother was en route from Colombia and that the borough's Colombian community would likely aid the family.
"They don't have money for the funeral, so we're trying to help them out a bit," he said. "I think the whole community will give some money to help."
A 32-year-old man and a 47-year-old woman were listed in critical condition, police said. A 22-year-old man and a 25-year-old female were also listed in stable condition at Elmhurst Hospital, while a 46-year-old man was treated and released, police said.
Six firefighters were also treated for minor injuries, an FDNY spokesman said. The investigation is ongoing, he said.
The fire, which occurred on the second and third floors of the building directly above Deli Grocery store, began just after 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Several residents who jumped out of their windows landed on the sidewalk or ledges along the side of the building.
George Zugajewicz, 43, who works across the street from the burnt building as the night watchman for Da Vinci Automotive, said he was eating breakfast at the deli when he heard loud noises from above.
"I heard a rumbling noise coming from the apartments and then saw people coming out emblazed in fire," said Zugajewicz, who ran back into the deli to retrieve a fire extinguisher.
A young man and woman came running out of the building on fire and the man headed to the back of the deli screaming, " 'Get something to put me out,' " Zugajewicz said. The night watchman and the deli owner opened a gallon of water and threw it on the man, putting out the flames, he said.
Zugajewicz said he heard screams from outside and ran to the side of the building, where he saw a man sitting on the ledge of his window, shouting, "'Save me.' " He said he pushed a dumpster to the side of the building and the man jumped into it.
He said he saw a younger girl sitting on a ledge when another girl jumped out of a window, knocking them both to the ground.
"The sound of her falling was horrible," he said. "I saw blood on the side of her head."
Zugajewicz said he went into action when the commotion began.
"It was a frightening, horrifying thing to see," he said. "I'm not a hero. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Sal Loretta, owner of Artistic Stitch, said his business, directly next to the deli, was not affected by the fire and that he was surprised that the blaze broke out.
"It's a fairly modern building and it has sprinkler systems," he said.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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