Joseph Conti, the Buffalo man whose 7-year-old son died in a fire on Benzinger Street on Monday, was barred by an order of protection from being at the home, according to a Buffalo City Court official.
A family friend who requested anonymity has alleged that Conti admitted accidentally starting the fire by using a blowtorch to light a cigarette. On Tuesday, fire investigators said Conti has not given them a formal statement and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
If Conti had obeyed the order of protection, he could not have accidentally started a fire Monday in the home.
Conti could face additional charges for violating the order of protection, said Kait Munro, a spokeswoman for Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
The six-month order of protection was issued Jan. 18 to protect Conti's wife, Lisa, according to a Buffalo City Court official. It was issued because Conti, 53, was arrested on New Year's Eve and charged with second-degree harassment, a violation. He was accused of spitting on and arguing with his wife, according to court documents. The order of protection was scheduled to expire on July 17, unless it was modified or vacated. There was no indication either action had taken place, the court official said.
Conti was scheduled to appear in the city's domestic violence court on Tuesday on the harassment case, but he did not show up, according to Munro. Judge JaHarr Pridgen rescheduled the case for Feb. 6.
Conti also had been wanted on a warrant issued Dec. 22 on misdemeanor and traffic violation charges, according to court records.
Anthony Conti, a second-grader at Lovejoy Discovery School 43, was found in the kitchen of the burning home at 59 Benzinger, about 4 to 6 feet from a bedroom. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. Preliminary autopsy results indicate he died of smoke inhalation.
Buffalo Fire Department Lt. James Otwell said investigators are in the process of scheduling a time to speak with Joseph Conti and obtain his official statement.
The 2:40 a.m. fire started in a first-floor bedroom. Firefighters with Engine 28 arrived at the scene within about 2 minutes, Buffalo Fire Commissioner Vincent V. Muscarella said.
Standing in front of the charred remnants of his house on Monday, Conti's face was red, peeling and covered in blisters.
"I failed him," he cried as neighbors wrapped their arms around him.
"No, you didn't," the neighbors replied.
Conti described the chaotic scene he encountered shortly before 3 a.m., saying he had just come out of a bathroom when he saw fire in a first-floor bedroom.
"When I came out it was a blaze," he said. "I tried to put it out."
The house was determined to be a total loss and is scheduled to be demolished Friday, said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana.
A GoFundMe page, entitled "Benzinger St Fire, Conti Family," has been set up to collect monetary donations for the Conti family. More than $16,240 was donated as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Donations of unused household items and clothes are being accepted from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all week at the Mead Library, 126 Ludington St., SS. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church, 44 Benzinger St., as well as any city police station.
Anthony Conti's family has decided to donate his organs.
"My beautiful nephew will live on in many others," Debbie Conti posted on Facebook.