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Repairs ordered at Merced home Order is not linked to 911 calls, officials say

Members of a West Side family have been ordered to correct fire safety violations or move out of a home that has been the scene of more than 1,000 false emergency calls this year.

City inspectors said they found more than a dozen safety violations Friday while examining the Juan Merced home at 78 15th St.

The home has been the scene of roughly 1,000 fake 911 emergency calls this year, causing great frustration for police, firefighters and ambulance crews who respond, fire officials said.

But officials denied that the safety violations were issued in retribution for the trouble caused by the fake calls.

"The place is a fire trap," said Chief Robert J. Stasio of the Fire Prevention Bureau. "It's unsafe, and it's unconscionable to have a family living there with nine children . . . Those would be my findings whether there was a problem with false calls or not."

Stasio said he and a city building inspector were called to inspect the building Friday after the Fire Department responded to a false call of an electrical fire there.

As a result of the inspection, officials said City Housing Court Judge Henry J. Nowak ordered the Merced family to leave the home by March 17.

"If the violations are corrected, and an inspection is done, they will be able to stay," Stasio said.

Merced and his attorney, Ayoka A. Tucker, could not be reached for comment Friday. In an interview with The Buffalo News last week, Merced insisted that he and his family are not responsible for the fake 911 calls for emergency aid to the home.

Tucker said she believes someone else has been making the calls, possibly in an effort to cause legal problems for the family. She said the Merceds home-school their children and make sure they do not get into mischief like making false calls.

Authorities said most of the 911 calls have falsely reported crimes, injuries or fires at the home, which includes two apartments and an empty storefront.

Despite the recent arrests of Merced and his wife, fake 911 calls to the location have been made daily throughout the past week, Brian K. Martinez of the Fire Marshals office said on Friday.

"We're getting anywhere from several a day to about 10 a day," Martinez said.

Merced, 49, and his wife, Felicita Santiago-Merced, 42, live in the home with their nine children. Authorities said the family had to evacuate the home while the inspection was being conducted. As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear when they would be allowed back inside.

Authorities said at least 19 different cellular telephones, including some phones owned by the family, have been used to make the calls. Investigators said they may need the help of a voice expert to determine exactly who is making the calls.

The Erie County district attorney's office is prosecuting Merced and his wife on a variety of misdemeanor charges, including failure to properly supervise their children.

"The investigation is continuing," prosecutor Michael L. McCabe said Friday.

According to Stasio, at least a dozen electrical safety violations were found at the home, including extension cords running under carpets, exposed wiring, electrical boxes with exposed wires, an improperly installed hot water tank and wiring that had been tampered with.

"We also found that the gas has been shut off, and they're using portable electrical heaters as their primary heating source, which is illegal," Stasio said.

"There was also one smoke detector in the entire building, and that was not working," Stasio said. "There should be a smoke detector inside and outside of every bedroom on every level."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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