$12 million settlement reached in Lawrence apartment fire

LAWRENCE | The families of three people killed in a 2005 apartment fire in Lawrence as well as several people who escaped with injuries will share a $12 million settlement.

Boardwalk Apartments and its management company, Terrace Management Services of Kansas City, Mo., had faced three wrongful death lawsuits and six other lawsuits by people who had been injured in the blaze at the 76-unit complex.

All of the lawsuits were combined as part of the settlement, Mike Ketchmark, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said Monday. The lawsuits claimed that the complex and the management company were negligent for failing to have adequate fire suppression system, fire alarm system and escape routes.

The fire broke out early on the morning of Oct. 7, 2005, and spread along balconies, killing Nicole Bingham, 21, a University of Kansas student; Helen "Yolanda" Riddle, 33, a social worker; and Jose Gonzalez, 50, an electrician. Some occupants jumped from the second and third floors.

Jason Allen Rose, a tenant who was 20 years old at the time, was arrested within days. He was convicted in May 2007 of three counts of involuntary manslaughter, one count of aggravated arson and seven counts of aggravated battery and is serving a 10-year sentence.

Ketchmark said the settlement was paid by Boardwalk's insurance company. He would not say how much of the settlement each of the victims was entitled to.

"We were happy with the result, and obviously it was a real tragedy and our clients are very happy to put this matter behind them," Ketchmark said.

Last week, tenants of the Boardwalk complex received a notice that all of its apartment buildings "do not comply with fire safety standards for newly constructed apartment buildings, and may not comply with the city's fire safety code."

As a result, current tenants' leases will not be renewed and they are urged to find other housing, according to the letter signed by Todd Thompson, an attorney for Boardwalk.

Ketchmark said Boardwalk's action to alert tenants about their safety was not a direct result of the settlement with the fire victims.