|Alonzo Yanes after the fire|
Principal Lacey testified "she made a terrible mistake" and cried on the stand, but was ousted from Beacon in August 2020, basically for this incident and her alleged "racist" policies.
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The unanimous panel of five justices used most of the opinion to detail the “catastrophic physical injuries, with psychological and emotional sequelae” suffered by the plaintiff, who has been identified in multiple news reports as Alonzo Yanes, at the time of the chemistry class accident in 2014 and in the years since. Yanes was 16 when, in a chemistry class at Manhattan’s Beacon High School, a teacher conducting an experiment “poured methanol from a gallon jug” into dishes containing nitrates, and “a giant fireball erupted … and engulfed” Yanes, and he burned for at least a minute, according to an earlier decision in the litigation by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Tisch, who cited witness accounts.
After detailing the pain and suffering Yanes has experienced, the First Department panel wrote simply that “under the circumstances of this case, we find the jury’s awards for past pain and suffering (5.5 years) and future pain and suffering (54 years) excessive only to the extent indicated,” citing Peat v. Fordham Hill Owners.
Earlier in the opinion, the panel had laid out “the extent indicated,” writing that a jury in 2020 had awarded “A.Y.” the “principal sums of $29,585,000 million for past pain and suffering and $29,585,000 for future pain and suffering over 54 years, plus 9% interest.” And the panel said in the Nov. 18 opinion that it was allowing Yanes to stipulate to a reduction of the trial-level awards to $12 million for past pain and suffering, and to $17 million for future pain and suffering.
Ben Rubinowitz, the attorney for Yanes and managing partner at Gair, Gair, Conason, Rubinowitz, Bloom, Hershenhorn, Steigman & Mackauf, has indicated that his client will accept the $29 million amount allowed by the First Department court, rather than attempt to retry damages in the case.
And in an email Nov. 19, he said that “it is hard to imagine the extent of the pain and suffering that Alonzo went through and will continue to go through for the rest of his life.”
“The bottom line is that Alonzo would give back every penny if he could have his health back,” Rubinowitz also said. And he added that “it is unfortunate that the city of New York failed to follow their own safety protocols and rules and so badly injured Alonzo.”
The New York City Law Department, which has represented the defendants, including the city of New York, the New York City Department of Education and the chemistry teacher who conducted the experiment gone wrong, in the long-running case, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
In the opinion that mostly detailed A.Y.’s injury and suffering, the panel, composed of Judges Troy Webber, Cynthia Kern, Lizbeth González, Manuel Mendez and Martin Shulman, wrote that his “physical injuries included, among other things, third-degree burns to 31% of plaintiff’s body — mainly on his face, ears, neck, arms, and hands — as well as degloving injuries to his hands and a corneal abrasion to his right eye.”
“Within the first 24 hours of his hospital admission immediately following the accident, 38 pounds of fluid were pumped into plaintiff’s body in an attempt to provide adequate fluid replacement to his damaged tissue, and plaintiff was placed in an induced coma for three days,” the panel also wrote.
Later in the opinion, the justices added that “the third-degree burns that plaintiff suffered also destroyed the nerves and sweat glands underneath his skin, causing him both to lose sensation in those areas and to be unable to regulate his own body temperature.” Moreover, they wrote, “Following his two-month hospital stay, plaintiff was required to wear compression garments, which caused him to overheat. Plaintiff’s treating physician testified not only that these injuries were permanent and incurable, but that plaintiff will also suffer from ‘double or triple’ the problems he ordinarily would have as he ages due to skin atrophy, i.e., the loss of elasticity and thickness of the skin.”
The justices also said that “as for his psychological and emotional suffering, plaintiff testified, in detail, about the sensations he experienced being on fire,” and that “despite stopping, dropping, and rolling in a futile attempt to extinguish the fire, plaintiff said that he ‘felt trapped in [his] own body’ and ‘completely helpless.’”
“He described it as ‘the worst pain [he had] ever felt in [his] entire life,’ and that ‘[n]ot a day passes by where [he does not] think about it,’” they added. “Plaintiff also attested to the unceasing, excruciating physical pain that he endured during his hospital stay, which was minimally alleviated, if at all, with pain medication.”
In August 2020, Tisch had upheld a jury verdict of $60 million in pain and suffering damages awarded to the former 10th-grade student, in a 38-page opinion.
City educators, parents, and students were sickened Thursday to hear an Upper West Side teacher found a pot of cash and a cushy job at the end of a rainbow experiment that burned two students.
Beacon High School teacher Anna Poole has landed $23,000 in raises since the 2014 accident that permanently disfigured one teen and prompted nearly $40 million in lawsuits.
New York City Parents Union founder Mona Davids was appalled.
"I think that's outrageous and ludicrous. It's actually insulting," said Davids. "But it's typical DOE. That's what they do, reward poor performance."
As an example, Davids cited former Bronx principal Santiago Taveras, who lost his job at DeWitt Clinton High School in a 2017 cheating scandal. Despite a probe that found he changed students' grades, Taveras landed in another high-paying city schools gig, as an educational administrator.
"Oh my God, I set a kid on fire," Poole cried out, according to a Special Commissioner of Investigation report published five months after horrific blast.
But instead of firing Poole, Education Department officials gave her a new job as citywide instructional specialist, and a series of raises the agency said were contractually required. She currently makes a $79,484 a year — up from $56,048 on the day of the explosion.
City public school teacher and education activist Axia Rodriquez said Poole's plum gig shows the Education Department disciplinary system is upside-down.
"The DOE is helping this lady reboot her career because it was a tragic accident," said Rodriquez, who teaches English-language learners. "But when whistleblowers speak up, their careers are in tatters."
Queens teacher Bobson Wong said on Twitter that the city should put its brightest educators in positions to lead important professional development classes.
"I think this says a lot about the quality of professional development — who gets chosen to do it," Wong tweeted. "I wish teachers had more of an opportunity to run PD, but given how busy we are, this is difficult."
Beacon students were shocked that Poole is giving city educators lessons on how to lead science classes. The classroom blast she touched off four years ago melted the ear of one student, burned the forearms and hair of another, and left a third with PTSD.
So "maybe continuing to work with chemicals isn't a super responsible decision," said sophomore Henry Pearl, 16.
Poole didn't pick up her office phone when called for comment, and her coworkers at 52 Chambers St. said they were too spooked to comment on her story.
"Good luck," said one DOE staffer approached by a Daily News reporter outside Tweed Courthouse. "There's a lot of fear here."
As a chemistry teacher at Manhattan's Beacon High School "poured methanol from a gallon jug" into dishes containing nitrates, "a giant fireball erupted ... and engulfed" the student, and he burned for at least a minute, wrote the judge.